By Tswelopele Makoe
THIS past week, matriculants from all over the nation received their final school-leaving marks. The matric students of 2023 made history, receiving the highest pass rate in the country since the dawn of democracy at 82.9%.
The results of the 2023 matric show a substantial improvement of 2.8% from the previous year, and 6.5% from 2021.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga praised and commended the 2023 cohort for achieving the highest percentage of Bachelor passes and distinctions in the history of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams and emphasised the substantial contributions of students from rural provinces, particularly in Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
Education in South Africa has always been a contentious topic. Although we are embarking on a new year, South Africa remains the most unequal society in the world.
This inequality is most notable in our education systems. For children in rural areas, the prospect of a quality education has always been inaccessible.
Proper education in our current landscape requires various forms of accessibility, resources and financial support. From tutors to educational materials to transportation, there are a plethora of factors to be considered for the attainment of a quality education.
The adults who work tirelessly to afford their dependants a quality education often contend with inflation, unemployment and many economic factors that directly result in the rising cost of education. The cost of education in South Africa continues to proliferate with time.
Schooling institutions require an immense amount of funding to properly provide and maintain their educational systems and curricula.
A proper education does not merely begin in one’s matric year – it is a multifaceted journey that begins with early childhood education.
The executive dean of Unisa’s School of Education, Professor Mpine Makoe, emphasised that the need to develop students and all “people at a younger age is very critical.”
Furthermore, South African schools receive state funding depending on how affluent their surrounding community is. Ultimately, education is free only in the poorest communities, particularly those in rural areas.All other schools charge school fees.
Despite the cost of living, education is a financially taxing burden for countless families, leaving many indifferent to the prospect, or feeling ostracised from the opportunities that are available.
The presumption is that the predecessor to matriculation is tertiary education. However, tertiary education itself is not always a viable option for many people.
For some, relocation causes stress and worry. For others, the need to earn an income and support their families supersedes their own educational aspirations. Our government has not yet achieved the actualisation of equal access and opportunities to education for all – particularly to those who need it the most.
The most recent statistics in 2022 show that about a third of the nation live in rural areas. The October 2023 statistics show over half of the population living below the poverty line.
The second-largest province, the Eastern Cape, is also the most poverty-stricken. Ultimately, this means that although South Africa is 30 years into democracy, a vast segment of the population still grapples for survival.
Importantly, however, this shows the magnitude, significance and determination of the matriculants of the present generation, and their achievement of an elevated national pass rate.
It is a positive signifier to know that the quest to complete one’s education, and the attainment of a tertiary qualification, is steadfast among the younger generation.
Although it’s vital to understand the lived realities of the students in the current South African context, it is also pertinent to understand their persistence in thriving regardless of the challenges they face.
We are living in an ever-changing, globalised, technologically advancing age, with more tools for advancement at our disposable than ever before.
It is important that we not only recognise our capacity, but also the crucial need to create knowledge, improve structures, advance creativity, create opportunities, and foster socio-political, economic and social empowerment in our society.
Our educational system cannot afford to remain stagnant and rigid. Our educational systems should be based on the recognition of the various people in our multiracial, multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual society, and the unique needs of the various people who constitute our modern society.
We need to ensure that our educational systems are preparing citizens for life beyond the classrooms and arming them with the knowledge not only to empower themselves, but also to empower their society at large.
The quality of our education needs to be distinguished in order for us to boost our employment potential and our economy, and to uplift our society into the future.
We need to remain open and inclusive in our knowledge systems and structures. The recognition that rural communities remain underdeveloped and overlooked cannot be normalised.
Rural communities, communities on the outskirts, and even remote communities (dorpies) across the entire nation hold a plethora of precious knowledge.
The systemic exclusion of remote and rural areas from institutional and social development is an inadvertent exclusion of those that live in these areas, and a hindrance to their participation in our ever-evolving economic landscape.
The continuous proliferation of information and communication technology allows many more students to obtain an education, and to access key information about the world from anywhere in the country.
A leading scientific institution, the Centre of Science and Technology (Cosat), is located in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.
The government’s reservation of funding to schools in affluent areas amount to the intentional disempowerment of the schools in rural communities, schools that need the resources and infrastructure the most.
We need to focus on literacy and numeracy, on building libraries and improving infrastructure. We need proper structures, and proper leadership in our schools. Anything less is a blatant injustice to the innumerable masses of students across the nation.
Our curriculum needs to evolve constantly to keep up with the needs of the world that these learners enter once they matriculate.
We must ensure that the training of educators and curriculum-makers is up to par. It is pertinent now, more than ever, to implement sustainable, adequate systems and structures that ensure the proper training of educators and children alike.
As the world continues to evolve, so does our society. Our curriculum, therefore, needs to maintain a type of connection and reflection of our society.
As Professor Makoe stated, “the curriculum is evolving, and the curriculum needs to change”. We cannot maintain a curriculum that does not address the unique needs of the citizens. We need a curriculum that assists us in developing the country.
Our educational system needs to be intent on developing a conducive, proliferating society that is intent on the continued development and empowerment of its people.
A strong educational system directly results in empowerment, which in turn results in a thriving economy. The acclaimed philosopher and educational reformer John Dewey once eloquently said: “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”
* Tswelopele Makoe is a gender activist. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and is affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.