THREE Rs: At Nwamankena Primary School outside Giyani in Limpopo teachers have to teach different grades in one classroom at the same time. The writer wonders what the matric results will be like given the state of education in South Africa. Picture: Mujahid Safodien

There was certainly no train smash in our country in the past 14 days or so, but a couple of bad dots, which, when connected, drew an ugly picture, pulled my mood down a few notches.

Of course, the bad dots would not include the passing away of Arthur Chaskalson and Jakes Gerwel.

Their profoundly sad deaths were acts of nature. We did not cause them. In fact, we should be enormously proud that we produced these sons of the soil who used their talents to make telling contributions to the development of our country in their areas of expertise.

A teacher in Cape Town told me of his desperation to leave the teaching profession if he could find another way to support his family.

He talked about dragging himself out of bed each working day to face unruly, ill-disciplined and underperforming children, as well as colleagues who scoff at any suggestion in staff meetings to tighten their hold on the pupils.

Drugs, dangerous weapons and gangsterism are a poisonous mix that make his school a frightening and depressing environment. He has no hope for his school or the children he teaches.

On the plane out of Cape Town the next day, I sat next to a Kenyan woman who works for an international finance company. On learning that I was once a deputy minister of education in South Africa, she complained: “I am a lady, but I was shocked by the short skirts your girls were wearing to school this morning. Why do you do that?”

This was her third trip to our country, but it was her first visit to Cape Town.

Although I could not comment on the length of the skirts of a particular school in a country where there are probably as many uniforms as there are schools, her comment got us started on a conversation about education.

She is satisfied with the Kenyan public education system, where the medium of instruction is English from the very first grade. Swahili is a compulsory language taught to facilitate communication and enhance national unity. Different ethnic groups may have their home languages taught in school, but purely as a subject.

Although corporal punishment is banned, teachers do enjoy authority in their schools and are well respected in society. With the introduction of free and compulsory primary education recently, overcrowding has become a concern, leading to a growth in the tendency by the middle classes to send their children to private schools.

While I have reservations about teaching in English from the word go, I do concede that the Kenyan education system is miles ahead of our inadequate one.

As if on cue, the Annual National Assessment results were released by the Department of Education.

Although there was a slight improvement in the lower grades as compared with last year, the assessment confirmed that our children are illiterate and innumerate. The shocker was the revelation that only 13 percent of Grade 9s passed the mathematics test.

When someone remarked in a meeting that South Africans are the worst boozers in the world, I freaked. No, we can’t be the most unequal society on Earth, have a lousy education system and then add the title of the worst per capita alcohol guzzlers on the globe. That got me scurrying to the internet to check.

It turns out that we are not. We are not even close to being one of the worst drinking countries in the world. But that is not much of a consolation.

We are all well aware of the ubiquitous hand of alcohol in the many societal problems that scar our country. Booze lurks in all statistics relating to assaults, domestic violence, drunk driving and the road accidents that go with that.

As we head into the festive season, the authorities will have their hands full dealing with alcohol-induced crimes and misdemeanours. Many people will be killed or maimed by cars driven by their drunken fellow countrymen and women.

Those behind the wheel with minds stupefied by liquor are often incapable of thinking about the horrible deeds of Jub Jub Maarohanye and Themba Tshabalala and the 25-year jail term their stupidity earned them.

So, the depressed Cape Town teacher with his difficult school, the unfavourable comparison of our education with that of Kenya and the release of the Annual National Assessment results that confirmed the education crisis we find ourselves in were the bad dots that I connected just recently.

I am not quite depressed, but the cumulative impact of all these dots has left me a bit downcast. What will be the effect of the release of matriculation results? What about the annual carnage on our roads? Are they going to add new bad dots?

l Mangena is a former Azapo leader and former minister of science and technology.