Achieving better education outcomes is not so simple
Some additional insights are necessary to respond to some of the issues raised by Nicola Soekoe (Unequal and unfair, Politicsweb, 1 November).
Apartheid is not the only problem blighting our education. The education system we now have was ushered in by the African National Congress (ANC) when Prof. Sibusiso Bengu became the first minister of education in the democratic era.
Bengu’s first policy intervention was the implementation of Outcomes Based Education (OBE), despite massive criticism from experts.
OBE’s principles are:
Student-centred – assessing what a pupil needs to do to demonstrate mastery of a particular skill, knowledge or behaviour;
Clarity – all learning objectives are clearly spelled out ahead of time, so pupils know what’s expected of them and can adjust their focus and questions more appropriately.
Flexibility – OBE had to adjust to a pupil’s strengths and weaknesses.
OBE had largely been a failure, even in First World countries. The adoption of OBE in the America, Australia and New Zealand led to criticism of the system from disparate sources. In many parts of the world, its adoption was linked to a drop in standards.
In South Africa, OBE attracted strident criticism from the outset. With education’s huge apartheid-based disparities and a method of teaching that had relied on rote learning for decades, it was a disaster. The teachers couldn’t teach it and the pupils couldn’t learn from it.
OBE was implemented by newly recruited young technocrats who paid insufficient attention to the curricula and teaching materials. OBE was adopted with little consultation or debate.
In 2010, 17 years after democracy, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshega announced that OBE would be replaced.
Another problem was Bengu’s emphasis on academic achievement and university study after school, rather than widening the scope for much needed vocational tertiary training, which was needed in the working world.
In addition, the incomprehensible decision to close teacher training colleges and make them merely a unit within university faculties reduced the number of teachers considerably.
Race is not a determinant of a superior education; class, as a result of the growth in the middle class, is a determinant, but poor children are not disregarded.
In most English-medium suburban schools the majority of the pupil body is black. Whites make up a minority.
What is seldom understood is that all fees paid by parents of a suburban school are paid from after-tax income. In other words, parents have already paid their taxes towards public education when they choose to pay more.
Ms Soekoe makes the assertion that by controlling the placement of learners, the GDE ultimately places learners in such a way that “takes into account the needs of the broader community in which the school is located.” This is highly unlikely; rather, schools which control their intake better know how to meet the needs of their “local community”.
It is also a fact that school governing bodies (SGBs) have always had to submit their Admissions Policies to the GDE. So the SGBs have never had carte blanche to do whatever they liked.
Ms Soekoe doesn’t appear to understand how economic systems really work, as revealed by her socialist animus for “wealthy” parents. Ms Soekoe clearly likes the idea of parents’ ‘social capital’ having ‘lesser significance’ as they now have no control over which school they may apply to. This is a truly bizarre idea.
It cannot be stated too clearly that a 30km radius is a ridiculously large area. The comment by ‘Peter Pan’ to Ms Soekoe’s article gives examples of the huge extent of the area covered by a 30km radius around Rivonia Primary.
A major issue for poor children is the cost of travel to suburban schools. A child may get a subsidy on fees, but parents would be forced to pay a large amount to get the child to and from school. Experience shows that if the GDE says a child has been placed in a school 30 kilometres away then they have to send their child there.
Infrastructure is the remit of the GDE. The GDE owns the properties and the buildings. However, it does no maintenance or repair in Quintile 5 schools. All repairs and maintenance must be done by the parents. Thus only the most urgent repairs will be done and usually not immediately. The rest may have to wait for years. One third or more of annual school budgets usually goes into infrastructure maintenance and repair.
The tables Ms Soekoe uses reveal nothing of any value. Parents only approve a budget they can meet. They approve a budget based on recovering 75% of total fees owed. This 75% must cover everything budgeted for – additional teachers, teaching aids, sports facilities, repairs and maintenance etc. Obviously, as the amount recovered drops, extramural activities will fall away, then maintenance and repair, then teaching aids and then staff have to be retrenched.
Parents will then withdraw as the loss in amenities indicates a drop in the quality of education which inevitably will follow. A vicious cycle will then ensure failure.
Ms Soekoe writes:
“The GDE’s reforms to admissions policies mean that parents from comparatively wealthy homes, living in comparatively wealthy neighbourhoods, will not be able to reserve access to the historically high-performing school in their neighbourhood for their children exclusively. If their child is admitted to that school, the demographic of the student body is likely to be significantly different than what they had anticipated. Some, no doubt, will flee to private schools.”
Hell will freeze over before the parents paying the money will accept this. This will be aggravated further if children are only enrolled in schools far away from where they live. If parents have to travel, many will travel to private schools.
Ms Soekoe imputes racism to parents’ responses to a school’s demographic. This view is antiquated and perhaps more reflective of her own soft racism.
The GDE’s job is an extremely tough one. A large number of foreign and local children from poorer provinces flood into Gauteng for a perceived better education.
Schools take a long time to build and the demand outstrips the supply, but there are township schools which should be upgraded in every sense.
The GDE’s salary bill is too high and much of it is paid to a plethora of bureaucrats whose functions may be questionable.
The Ministerial Task Team’s Cash for Jobs Report of 2016 identified many acts of corruption. The Report noted that six of the nine provincial education departments have been captured by the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union. The GDE is one of the six. To our knowledge nothing has come of the Report.
Sara Gon, who spent 13 years serving on and chairing governing bodies at government schools, is a Policy Fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click or SMS your name to 32823 (SMSes cost R1, Ts and Cs apply).