S. African education system in need of radical reforms

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For South Africa to produce the world’s next generation of engineers or doctors, extreme reform is in order. In fact, change is needed if the country even hopes for over 50 percent of its elementary school population to pass the “matric,” the main nationwide test at each grade level.

Currently, the public education system is stuck in the apartheid legacy in which the “Bantu” system was established to make blacks subservient laborers. This system not only plagues the students but also hurts today’s teachers, who were taught under the outdated system, making for a network of undereducated and unprepared South Africans.

Adding to the problem of outdated and repressive education, teacher absenteeism is at an all-time high. Teachers who fail to show up are not held accountable. Even when they do show up, they teach only for about half of the five hours they are expected to, spending the rest of the time immersed in paperwork. The knowledge they are imparting also brings up some doubts. In a study of literacy in third grade teachers, the majority of them scored less than 50 percent on a test for sixth graders.

With South Africa hoping to become a new, competitive global power, it is time for its public education system to reach the level of these grand hopes.

The new government after apartheid made a number of changes that they claimed would bring the education system up to par. Many of these changes, however, have been disastrous. In changing the curriculum, the government came up with a lesson plan far too sophisticated for current teachers. Many teacher colleges were shut down, and no programs or reforms were established in their place. In this illogical move, the government ensured that the network of uneducated South Africans remain in the midst of this new education system. South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of teacher unionization. However, the emphasis is on teacher rights, not responsibilities, which needs to change.

Angie Motshekga, South Africa’s newly appointed Minister of Basic Education, has proposed some changes in the right direction. Motshekga has proposed that school principals be appointed directly by the education department, given more authority over teachers, and held accountable by the education department. She has also come up with a system of monitoring teacher attendance by having them respond to electronic queries.

However, Motshekga has shown that she is not willing to fully embrace radical reform. She has already been labeled as giving in to the demands of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union. And though this proposal was scrapped, lowering the pass rate of the countrywide “matric” from an 80 percent to a 70 percent was at first seriously considered.

What is needed now in South Africa is a leader of education who is unafraid of complete departure from the apartheid public education system. It is true that the education department does not have much money to work with, but mass amounts of capital are not needed for reform. A change in mindset is needed in South Africa — a new age has dawned, and if South Africa aims to compete in the global economy, its reforms must be as determined as its hopes for change.