South Africa recently received its highest matric pass rate in 20 years, with 78.2% of 707 136 matric students passing in 2013, but many pupils don’t complete their schooling.
Brand South Africa hosted the Sowetan Dialogues at Uncle Toms Hall in Orlando West in Soweto on 22 January to work with community members to help find ways to keep students in school, and to help communities, teachers and students bolster the country’s education system.
Tim Modise, Power FM radio presenter, facilitated the discussion, with residents from Soweto and neighbouring townships, and panellists including Professor Adam Habib of Wits University, Panzaya Lesufi of the Department of Basic Education, Dr Jeffrey Mabelebele of Higher Education South Africa and Rosie Chirongoma from Symphonia, a leadership development consultancy.
Modise said: “If we are going to create a meaningful society in South Africa, everybody must come to the party fully equipped, fully supported, completely confident of who they are; and having all the skills that will help them navigate their lives in this ever-complex world.”
Brand South Africa chief executive officer, Miller Matola, currently in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, said: “Education plays a significant role in growing a country and in its competitiveness. We therefore need to ensure our school system can deliver quality education to enrich our learners and provide them with the tools they need to be successful.”
The Soweto public dialogue was one in a six-part series to promote the pillars of the National Development Plan, or Vision 2030. The pillars include: uniting all South Africans around a common purpose; growing an active citizenry; growing an inclusive economy; improving capabilities; and recognising the need for a “capable and developmental state”.
THE EDUCATION BACKLOG
Lesufi, who spoke in his capacity as a Department of Basic Education representative, said that when you first evaluate an education system you have to look at how accessible it is to the people.
“I am very proud to say that out of every child that can be in school we have ensured that 98% are in school. I will assure you we will not rest until the final 2% is also in school,” he said.
He highlighted that in 2006, 360 000 pupils started Grade R compared to this year’s 800 000.
Lesufi added that as much as the department is working on making the system world class, South Africa is still burdened with historical problems, such as apartheid, colonialism and Bantu Education.
“Our argument is that our education system might need a bit of tweaking, but there are more pertinent socio-economic issues that need to be dealt with.”
He added that to keep students in the system, schools need to comply with policy; there is a need for increased options in the curriculum and for strong programmes for weaker pupils.
Lesufi said: “While it is true that there is a problem of high dropout rates, there were other factors that were not being taken into consideration in this debate.
“Those factors include learners in jail, repetition, learners opting for FET [further education and training] colleges, private and overseas education, the quality of teaching and learning and lack of remedial support.”
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT IN EDUCATION
Chirongoma, who deals with fundraising and stakeholder engagement at Symphonia, said communities had to focus on what they could do to support the education system.
She said: “As community we all have a role to play. Find out what the needs of the school and/or the learners are that you can provide. It does not have to be money; it could be community policing whereby you take fear away from learners and they can walk from home to school freely, or could be a talent that you have and that you can teach them.”
She also added that as much as help is needed from big business, the taxi owner in the neighbourhood can do his bit by providing transport assistance, the spaza owner who bakes vetkoek can supply breakfast for pupils who can’t have breakfast at home; “We just need to focus on what the community has that can help the school and forget about looking for big change.”
GETTING THE EDUCATION BASICS RIGHT
Habib, vice-chancellor at Wits, said that if the Department of Education was serious about improving the education system, they just needed to do the simplest of things.
“There’s something that hurts me badly when I drive around Soweto. I get to see learners during school hours sitting outside the school or walking around the neighbourhood, something you would never see at schools in the suburbs,” said Habib.
He said that for schools in townships to be on par with those in the suburbs it had to start with small things like having teachers and pupils inside the school yard during school hours.
Habib lamented that tertiary education fees were spiralling out of control, making it hard for parents to send their children to tertiary institutions.
“How does a mother of two with an annual salary of R150 000 take her two children to Wits even if they are good academics when a BSc degree and residency cost close to R100 000 for one?”
He added that the quality of the students enrolled at tertiary institutions has dropped.
“About 55% of those who make it to university do not complete their degrees,” he said.
He added that some of it has to do with technical skills, reading and mathematics; “They do not have the foundation for a first year degree, so we are now unrolling a major programme around identifying students that are struggling and providing them with mentorship and support and we should not delude ourselves that our education system is producing enough quality students so that they can perform.”
COMMUNITY OPINIONS ON DROPOUTS
Some 150 community members attended the discussion, and Mpho Masuku, from Dube, asked: “Influences are rife in the community that say school is not cool and you can take shortcuts in life with a lot of others who didn’t finish school spending their time at car washes in fancy cars and expensive clothes, but with no visible source of income. How do you make pupils understand those are not good role models?”
Sifiso Nkabinde, a parent from the area, answered: “I believe such things should be discussed with your own kids as those come from values instilled in them from home. If you instil confidence in your children they will never look for role models elsewhere.”