Education still unequal after 25 years of democracy

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Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga. Picture: Jacques Naude / African News Agency (ANA)

While apartheid education vanished after the dawn of democracy 25 years ago, disparities in resource allocation, widespread drug use and violence have had a negative impact on the quality teaching and learning, say education experts.

Commenting on the eve of the release on Monday of the 2018 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Teaching and Learning International Survey (Talis) results by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, three educationalists who spoke to The Citizen said more needed to be done by government and society.

Talis surveyed teachers and school leaders on the working conditions and the learning environment in several countries, which included South Africa, Australia, Japan, Korea, Norway, the United States and the United Kingdom, to provide a barometer of the profession.

Linguistics lecturer in the department of education and curriculum studies at the University of Johannesburg George Makubalo described apartheid education for blacks as having been “garbage”.

“But public education provision in townships and rural schools is still of poor quality.

“The greatest failure in the post-apartheid ANC-led government has been in the field of education, where quality is still a major problem.

“The structural transformations, such as merging different education departments, was successful at eliminating the apartheid barriers, but did not necessarily lead to the lower economic segments accessing education of good quality.

“The middle class has options and others don’t,” said Makubalo.

Lack of quality teachers was “the biggest impediment to children from working class and poor families accessing quality education”.

Makubalo: “Apartheid bequeathed us with teachers of poor quality but post-apartheid efforts at teacher development have been patchy and reactive.

“Many teachers in our schools cannot teach, as they don’t possess the subject knowledge, pedagogic content knowledge or a great grasp of the language of teaching and learning.

“The responses are usually meant to patch up cracks through workshops for teachers – talking about robotics when kids cannot learn mathematics or basic sciences.”

SA Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said drug use and school violence were “societal problems and not a matter for the education minister or teachers”.

Said Maluleke: “Drugs and violence are a societal problem, which the minister and teachers cannot deal with. The society has to rid itself of the ills of drugs and violence.

“The parenting role is the most important in dealing with behaviour.”

He urged Motshekga to push for the implementation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) resolution to teach learners in their mother tongue, which he said had vastly improved numeracy and literacy teaching in Cambodia and Thailand.

“The minister must allow teachers to teach in the mother tongue and undergo training to be proficient to improve the quality of education.

“We also need to ensure that clusters across all schools are formed to encourage information and knowledge sharing.

“Such a collaboration will ensure that teachers and schools do not work in silos,” said Maluleke.

Congress of South African Students (Cosas) president John Matsheke said existing disparities in resource allocation created two worlds: “the poor and the privileged”.

He explained: “While in some Limpopo schools learners are fighting for toilets, in Gauteng they have tablets, which kids in other provinces do not have.

“Teaching materials should be made available to all.

“If we are talking paperless classrooms, that should apply to all.”

Among its findings, the survey said:

  • Intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers happened at least weekly in 5% to 10% of schools in Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, Estonia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden and the United States.
  • Teachers reported spending at least 85% of classroom time on actual teaching and learning in Estonia, the Russian Federation, Shanghai (China) and Vietnam, but only 65% to 70% in Brazil, Chile, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.
  • In almost all countries surveyed, more experienced teachers were favoured, with the exception of Portugal, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Vietnam.

Brian Sokutu / The Citizen