8 October 2008
A report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development into education in South Africa has found that while the education system has achieved a number of positive results in the past 14 years, it is still in a process of transition, and is suffering from a lack of resources and infrastructure.
Released earlier this week, the report was a result of a request by Education Minister Naledi Pandor for the OECD to undertake a peer review of South Africa’s education policies in 2006.
The OECD provides a setting where governments can compare policy experiences, seek answers to common problems, identify good practice and coordinate domestic and international policies.
“The post-apartheid government inherited an education system beset by a host of problems, a fundamental issue of which was the structured inequality that was embedded in the system,” noted the report, entitled A Review of the South African Education System.
“Added to these weaknesses are major infrastructural deficits, inadequate financing, lack of democratic procedures, imbalanced curricular policy, poor teacher education and very unsatisfactory provision of teaching of teaching materials.”
The review included an examination of key aspects of the education system, governance and financing of the education system, curriculum, learning materials and assessment, early childhood education and adult education, vocational education training and human resource development, inclusive education and equity in South African education, the teaching and teacher education as well as higher education.
Policy review ‘crucial’
Commenting on the report, Pandor said policy review was a crucial element of the work of any government.
“We have to ask ourselves whether the policy interventions we have put in place since 1994 have been instrumental in ensuring that we reach our goals of access, equity, redress, quality, relevance and efficiency,” Pandor told BuaNews this week.
She said she had anticipated a condemning review of the education system, however, the report had instead noted a number of achievements.
“The OECD review team registered surprise at what we had achieved in 14 years rather than surprise at what we still have to achieve”, Pandor said. “Anywhere in the developing world, a minister of education would be overjoyed at receiving a positive if qualified audit from an international organisation like the OECD.”
Stimulating vibrant debate
Center for Education and Policy Development analyst Mary Metcalf welcomed the report, telling BuaNews that the review would add value by stimulating vibrant debate where key stakeholders would find common ground for urgent action.
These debates would also surround the OECD’s many useful recommendations following the report’s findings in educating the nation’s children.
The straightforward recommendations centre on several themes: the governance and financing of the education system; the curriculum and learning materials; early childhood education and adult education; vocational educational training and human resource development; equity in South African education and teacher training and higher education.
The OECD recommended that emphasis on curriculum policy should be placed on the implementation of the current curriculum emphasising the provision of learning materials, professional development of teachers, development of appropriate assessment tools and early diagnosis and remediation of learning problems.
“Before promulgating new policy measures for schools, feasibility studies at the level of average or below average schools should be conducted with more attention paid to effective communication of policy,” the OECD recommended, saying that focused training programmes were needed for staff capacity building at provincial and district level.
‘Invest in early childhood development’
Early childhood development and adult basic education and training have tended to be marginalised in South African education despite some admirable policy documents, said the OECD, adding that due to the racially discriminatory policy of the past, many adults lost out on educational opportunities.
The report therefore recommended that additional investment in early childhood development should focus on supporting parents as early educators through multimedia, multilingual programmes. It also noted that all Grade R teachers should have access to the same professional development and support resources.
Presenting a report on vocational educational training, European Training Foundation expert Milena Corradini, who was part of the review team, said better partnerships between the business community and the education sector should be established and links between schools and the world of work should be more systematic.
“Mechanisms should be established to make the demand in the labour market more dynamic and flexible and better linked to the vocational education training provision and real, on the job training should be provided by companies as part of the training curriculum,” Corradini said.
Special needs and inclusivity
On the issue of equity in the education system, the review team was impressed with the emphasis given in South African policy to inclusivity. It also acknowledged that this had a broader implication than providing persons with disabilities access to schooling.
The department should develop a precise, reliable and consistent data gathering system on special educational needs students and on South African school’s ability to meet the needs of these learners, the OECD recommended.
An emphasis should be placed on system deficiencies rather than learner’s difficulties, the report said, adding that all schools should also be accountable through annual reports on their physical and accessibility strategies.
The report further found that there was a need for the department to produce a policy position paper setting out a comprehensive action plan and highlighting policy initiatives which were being introduced regarding the teaching career accompanied by a communication plan.
According to the report, pilot schemes should be introduced for the induction of new teachers.
Professional teacher development
The report team also noted that the teaching career did not enjoy a good public image, and therefore did not attract high quality candidates.
The team therefore suggested that more attention should be paid to the management of the change process in terms of detailed planning, budgeting and monitoring of change with change resistance and a formal training in the pedagogy of higher education, which should be made available to academic staff, particularly junior lecturers.
National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa President Dave Balt complimented Pandor and the department for taking the bold step to commission the report.
“We are happy with the recommendations,” Balt told BuaNews. “We need professional development of teachers and qualified teachers on the early childhood development and we are very happy about the endorsement of quality learning and teaching campaign as a matter of urgency.”
Financial and Fiscal Commission representative Nomonde Madubula told BuaNews that the report highlighted in detail all the facets of the education system in South Africa and how it had come so far despite historical legacy.
“Achievements are noted and now the real move in the ground is to address challenges made in the report and come with solutions, which is not going to happen overnight, it needs to be progressively realised through a phased approached,” she said.