What is the State of Education in SA?
The state of basic education in South Africa is not healthy, as Mduduzi Qwabe finds.
In her budget speech on May 24, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said that “the basic education system is definitely a system on the rise”.
“All of us,” she said, “have a duty to ensure that the right of our learners to quality, effective, inclusive, and efficient basic education is not negotiable. We now have a stable system that looks at the whole development of a child — our future leaders.”
The minister admitted that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) is concentrating on improving the quality of outcomes in the early grades of schooling. This is taken from research showing that learner dropout and poor learning outcomes in the higher grades are a result of weaknesses in the foundation phase.
Exploring the present education landscape assists in identifying whether the system is improving and where the gaps that need to be addressed are.
There are 30231 schools in South Africa. Of these 25826 are ordinary public schools (14206 primary; 6411 secondary; 5209 combined and intermediate).
There are 12 883 888 learners in all sectors of the basic education system: 93% in ordinary public schools; 4% in independent schools; 2,2% in Early Childhood Development centres, and 0,9% in special schools.
There are 446008 educators in the schools (186285 of them primary). The learner-educator ratio is 29:1; learner to school is 481:1 and educator to school is 17:1.
Over 98% of 7-15-year-olds are at school, but the quality remains a challenge with experts saying 80% of schools — the poorest — are dysfunctional.
Gaps in the system?
The basic education sector has a budget allocation of R23,4 billion for the 2017/18 budget, an increase of about R1,1 billion from the 2016/17 allocation. A considerable amount of expenditure goes to infrastructure, at about R13 billion, the National School Nutrition Programme at R6,8 billion, and Planning, Information and Assessment at R6,7 billion.
The DBE has done a great deal to introduce pro-poor policies through programmes to mitigate the inequalities that persist within the South African economy. These include the National School Nutrition Programme, the no-fee schools policy, and learner transport.
According to the DBE, 87% of schools have been declared no-fee schools in the poorest categories — quintiles 1-3.
Unfortunately, about 75% are underperforming, because the best teachers and facilities are found in the remaining 25% of schools. This means that the majority of children from poor backgrounds remain trapped in poverty because their families cannot afford to send them to better-resourced schools.
Poor children have no choice but to attend schools where below average performance is the norm rather than the exception.
Furthermore, slow economic growth has meant that financial allocations to schools — especially those in the lower quintiles — have been reduced — and in many instances even have not been forthcoming. This negatively affects the teaching and learning activities of already underperforming schools.
Subsidies to low fee-charging independent schools have also been reduced or paid late, placing many of them under immense financial pressure, especially for educators’ salaries.
Ok, so what are the stats?
In the 2016 NSC matric exams, 265810 candidates wrote mathematics. Of those, 135958 passed with 30% or higher — a little under half of all candidates scored lower than 30%. Only about 34000 passed with 60% or above.
The basic education department has been celebrating improvements in recent international studies: the Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ IV), and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS 2015).
Although these indeed show considerable improvement, South Africa remains one of the lowest-performing developing countries in the TIMSS results, and there are also concerns over the SACMEQ results.
The poor performance of learners in reading and comprehension has been widely documented by a number of studies.
Out of a hundred children who start school, only about 54 finish Grade 12, and of these only 72,5% passed Grade 12 in 2016.
This adds pressure on an economy that is already experiencing sluggish growth aggravated by other socio-economic factors. Youth unemployment is estimated as being in excess of 60%, which can, to a certain extent, be attributed to the high dropout rate in schools.
Other challenges that are worth mentioning are:
- Lack of capacity at district/circuit offices: this affects delivery at the coalface of the system. The policy on the “Role and Organisation of Education Districts” was promulgated in 2014 to deal with this challenge and has since been gazetted for amendment.
- Service delivery protests disrupting school attendance: in the past few years, communities protesting against a lack of service delivery disrupt school attendance as a way of pressurising government.
- A shortage of adequately skilled teachers: the shortage affects the most critical subjects, such as mathematics and science, and teaching in the foundation phase. There is also a critical shortage of language teachers, especially for African languages.
- Poor subject knowledge by teachers: inadequately trained teachers are qualifying from universities.
- Power of the unions: teacher unions block attempts to bring about accountability in the sector and interfere with the teaching and learning in schools.
- Slow pace of infrastructure delivery: despite the fact that the DBE has the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative, backlogs remain a challenge, especially in provinces like Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.
The education system is indeed on an upward trajectory but the pace is very slow. There are a number of positive initiatives by different directorates within the DBE designed to ensure that we realise the Vision 2030 goals — but all stakeholders have to pull together.
Education, after all, is our collective responsibility.
Mduduzi Qwabe is the manager for policy, advocacy and government relations at the Catholic Institute of Education.