Matric pass rate: On the road to Nobody
- Jay Naidoo
- 24 Jan 2013 02:38 (South Africa)
I drive past the village of Nobody in Limpopo on the way to Motapo. We crawl our way through the gravel roads, navigating the potholes until we reach the village of “Ma Gogo” who has played a significant role in raising my kids. We are going to celebrate the 94th birthday of her mother, “grand Gogo.” What history she has seen: the brutality of dispossession; freedom; the continuing struggle to realise what we fought for. She has lived through it all. I could spend days listening to her wisdom.
She is fiercely independent with no hearing aids and no spectacles. Her first words to me are, “I cook and take care of the garden and house.” The trees are heavy with mangoes, her backyard with the growing maize plants and spinach. It reminds me of my childhood. Most of our food came from the backyard.
As we sit around the table, bustling with the excitement of visitors from Johannesburg and surrounded by her great-grandchildren, the subject turns to education. Ma Gogo says: “My grandchildren go to the Catholic school. They get a good education there. There is discipline there. We pay R500 per year. But we know that teachers are there and learning takes place. We are grateful to the Catholic Church.”
Why can we not demand the same quality of education from every public school?
There are teachers present. They are passionate and vocal. The subject opens the floodgates. “Many pupils still do not have textbooks; our toilets are a disaster. Many girls do not come to school during menstruation because of the stench and unhygienic conditions. Even in our homes we rarely have water.”
Why do we have such a paralysis? What is the role of the principal? I ask myself what I would do. I would get into my car and drive to the local education department office. I would bang on the door of the bureaucrat in charge and demand the textbooks and load them into my car and take them back to the school I run. Why are our principals so helpless?
My mind turns back to the news of the matric results earlier in the week. In a recent radio interview on the 73.9% national matric pass rate, Panyaza Lesufi, spokesperson for the Department of Basic Education, concluded: “One day we will provide our children with quality education.”
I look at the children playing soccer in the makeshift sports grounds. They are barefooted. Surely every one of them has a right to a quality education. They are children of Somebody, like you and me. Why should they have to wait the ghost of Apartheid to make its final exit 19 years into our democracy?
I fully support the NGO Equal Education, which has campaigned around its demands for norms and standards to be enforced by the national department. Its analysis points to the physical impediments to a functioning education system. Only 8% of schools have functioning libraries. Over 3,600 schools lack electricity and 2,400 lack running water; 46% of schools still reportedly use pit latrines.
In the Eastern Cape, over 300 ‘mud schools’ still remain. Compounded by overcrowding, with classes of over 50 pupils, the low morale and inadequate subject knowledge by teachers makes for a toxic mix.
The Minister of Basic Education earlier this year gazetted draft norms and standards that caused uproar amongst education activists who accused the national department of deceitfulness. “We are left with no option but to go back to court, because the drafts show continued disregard for our Constitution and its commitment to the right to quality education.”
Section 27’s Mark Heywood said: “I see a sense of greater confidence amongst parents, pupils and communities. Daily we are receiving reports of schools without textbooks, schools without proper toilets and water, teachers who are absent and positions not filled. Communities are sick and tired of excuses and broken promises. They want action immediately.”
Our country cries out for decisive leadership. What is the problem with government spelling out detailed minimum norms and standards? I think back to the 10-point plan developed in 2008, co-chaired by Zweli Mkhize (now Treasurer General of the ANC) and myself as then-Chairperson of the DBSA, in an inclusive process which involved the teacher unions, government, academics, NGOs, business and training institutions.
It was our decisive plan of action to reverse the rot in our education system. It resolved, amongst other priorities, to ensure that there was discipline in schools. That teachers are in class, on time, teaching and using textbooks; that effective evaluation and performance of teachers should be linked to remuneration. We agreed to strengthen management capacity to ensure working districts and schools. We committed to a National Consultative Forum dedicated to clarifying the non-negotiable performance targets for key stakeholders, and the monitoring thereof and mobilisation of communities at all levels to fight for quality education; we undertook to create the environment for learning and teaching, such as a nutrition programme, and addressing the need for norms and standards of basic infrastructure for schools.
Where are we almost five years later?
Today we are looking at the first generation of ‘born frees’ coming through our education system. Let us consider the arithmetic. A national government report states that the number of children that enrolled for grade one in 2001 was over a million. These would be the matriculants of 2012. Only 623,897 candidates sat for the NSC exams, according to the Department of Basic Education. This means that only 62% of all the children that enrolled for school in 2001 wrote their matric exams 12 years later.
This literally means that less than 46% or 462,924 of these children that started their schooling in 2001 obtained their National Senior Certificates in 2012! Over half a million kids have disappeared from our system. That is an indictment on our democracy and a national emergency.
We should be outraged as a society, demanding answers from our policy makers.
I try to understand the meaning of the matric certificate that students who passed have. I am struck by the comments of Professor Jonathan Jansen, who I recognise as the foremost authority on education in our country. "If a black student requires from you different treatment and lower academic demands because of an argument about disadvantage, tell them to take a hike. If you have lower academic expectations of black children because of what they look like, or where they come from, that is the worst kind of racism."
He elaborates further, “Our society, schools and universities have adjusted expectations downwards, especially in relation to black students, and that is dangerous in a country with so much promise for excellence. If passing matric means a 40% in a home language, 40% in two other subjects, and 30% in three subjects, what kind of self-respecting nation accepts this level of mediocrity? “
I go back to my days as union organiser working with largely illiterate hostel dwellers in harsh and brutal conditions. These were the pioneers in the fight for democracy. How often I would be told, “We are thirsty for knowledge. We want to understand the law, to learn the skills of negotiations and collective bargaining. We want to improve our situation and earn better wages. We want our children to have a quality education that we never had the right to. We want to build the foundations of our movement for political freedom; because we want a government that will deliver an education and economic opportunity for our children to lead a better life than we live.”
They did not want mediocrity. They did not want their children to have a certificate that was not worth the paper it was written on. They wanted their children to have the dignity of choosing their jobs.
As Professor Jansen continues, “Mathematics is the gold standard for assessing the real meaning of the senior certificate results. So what does the mathematics pass rate tell us? That 46.3% of pupils passed mathematics. That the 104,033 students who passed include everyone with as low a mark as 30% and above. A far better determination would be the number who passed with a 50% mark. By this measure, only 41,586 or 18.51% of pupils who wrote mathematics passed, which in turn is 8.38% of all pupils who sat for the NSC examinations; and the number that wrote mathematics is 40,000 fewer than those who wrote in 2010.”
The World Economic Forum has since released its most recent Annual Global Competitive Report for 2012-2013. South Africa ranked 52nd out of 144 countries surveyed, which is impressive for a relatively young democracy and a developing economy.
Despite our overall competitive ranking, key areas, essential for the future of our children, are extremely lacking. We are ranked 132nd overall for the quality of primary education, 143rd in the quality of math and science education, 111th in internet access in schools; while the overall quality of our education system is ranked 140th.
The Department of Higher Education confirms, “In spite of continually increasing levels of spending on foundation phase education, the test results of learners in grades 3 to 6 remain some of the worst in the world. A majority of pupils entering the intermediate phase remain largely illiterate and experience difficulty as they progress through the system.”
We should have the minister, MEC’s, principals, and teacher union leaders in the dock, all charged with treason and sabotage of the future and hopes of our children and country. And for those demagogues who entrench the current status quo and fling empty rhetoric at NGOs that are fighting for the right of our children to quality education, I have these words for you:
“GO JUMP INTO THE NEAREST OCEAN!” DM
- Blood, Power and Betrayal
- The night of the long knives
- The global food system is broken; here's how to fix it
- Africa's tomorrow depends on empowering its people today
- Ebola: Fear, Paralysis, Solidarity, Justice
- The UN General Assembly week, New York: A cacophony of noise and hope
- Hiking the roof of Africa; my journey to the depths of myself
- Visualising the end of inequality – a new path to negotiation
- After the platinum strike: We dare not fail now
- Letter to the next generation
- Formal vs. informal economy: Bridging the gap
- Connecting the dots: Building workers’ unity and workers’ power
- Democracy in distress: Are our elections bought and our votes sold?
- May Day 2014: Cosatu's tough choice of the politics of workers unity or politics of political parties
- COSATU: In the eye of the storm
- Twenty years of SA democracy: A new fight must begin
- Kibera: Hope and human dignity rising in the slums of Africa
- The rise and fall of Cosatu: From vanguard to sacrificial lamb
- A leader I would vote for: Botswana's former president Festus Mogae
- A leader I would vote for: President Pedro Pires of Cape Verde
- Op-Ed: A giant stumbling through the minefield of political division – my appeal to the Cosatu workers
- A leader I would vote for: Joaquim Alberto Chissano
- A leader I would vote for: President Mujica of Uruguay
- That Lula Moment: A question of leadership and integrity
- Following the money: Work with citizens to make our money work for all
- Checkmate: The rise of radicalism
- Lords of the Niger Delta: The Shell legacy of profit before people
- Protests, police and cowardice – our State of the Nation
- New stones for my Madiba rosary
- The final journey and the legacy that will always live in our hearts
- After the tears, the hard work of building the world that Mandela believed in
- Mandela's gone. But he will be with us, forever.
- Bekkersdal: The turning point in SA municipal politics – time for a line in the ground
- Africa Rising? Whose Africa?
- The scramble for the Arctic and the dangers of Russia’s race for oil
- Africa's future is clear: Youth, Technology & Broadband
- Child mortality is our human rights failure of the 21st century
- Technology can wipe out the cancer of corruption
- My open letter to South Africa
- Amputating the soul of our children
- The vision of the Invisible Children
- A humble billionaire, asking tough questions
- Cry, the beloved country; cry, the beloved federation
- Humanity at a crossroads: Fighting for climate justice
- Wanted: Ancient wisdoms to heal our planet
- The taste of power: its sanctity and its perversion
- When the town I loved burned down, or, when Heaven was visited by Hell
- As our Constitution lives, so does Mandela
- Bangladesh: Losing some battles, but winning the war
- Rana Square – the Ground Zero of workers’ rights
- Small-scale farming: simple, successful, sustainable
- A global debate needs local voices
- When will Africa be led by the needs of its people?
- The faultlines in our society: Why are we so angry?
- Nigeria: Africa's best hopes and worst fears
- Our ancient African heritage holds the key to our future
- To build a better world for all, we need a new narrative, new energy, new commitment
- A culture of service and tolerance: Lessons from Chris Hani
- Open data platforms: a tool to revolutionise governance
- Aluta continua: Why the fight for quality healthcare can’t be over
- ‘I raped her because she belongs to me’
- Would Hani and Slovo today be accused of Neo-liberalism and Counter-revolution?
- An open letter to my fellow South Africans: I am ready. Are you?
- A trip to Limpopo: The Forgotten Land
- 'I have a right to a toilet - it's human dignity'
- Matric pass rate: On the road to Nobody
- The challenges of today are South Africa's opportunities of tomorrow
- India: The ongoing tyranny of the caste system
- To my generation: Listen. Listen very carefully.
- The Lula moment and this country of ours, South Africa
- African youth: Fulfilling the potential
- Africa’s 'leadership crisis' - we have more agency than we think
- Think climate change isn't your problem? It will be when you can't eat
- The wuthering heights of disenchantment
- An open letter to Cosatu
- Democracy for all: Marikana signals our second chance
- Can't you hear the thunder?
- A new age, a new role for foundations: redefine development
- Video series - great women of SA: Emma Mashinini (I)
- Mother love: Time to add decency and respect to women's hard-won rights
- GAINing ground: The beauty of one good idea
- Education: a morass of mediocrity
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part V
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part IV
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part III
- Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us, part II
- Celebrating Madiba week: The lessons his sacrifice taught us
- Mandela day: time for the next generation to take control
- The school of sexual predation
- Rio+20: We're not colonies anymore
- Prayers to the rain gods
- Our foreign policy gets more foreign as time goes by
- Not a moment to Spear: Why, in a time of crisis, that painting is irrelevant
- Ma Emma: The true spear of the nation
- Araku - the truth, the inspiration
- An infinite vision - The story of the Aravind eye hospital
- Get up, stand up South Africa!
- Our future lies in the mothers of nature
- There's a Light in the Get Kony Campaign
- Empowerment lies in women in Indian villages talking to those in African villages
- Dear President Zuma
- Adequate food is essential component of social justice
- Durban to Rio could be our Road to Damascus
- The Grinch who stole hope
- The Grinch who stole hope
- iMaverick, Monday 28 November
- Africa at the crossroads: Let's talk Brazil
- The secrecy bill: Welcome back, Magnus Malan & Adriaan Vlok
- The powder kegs of unmet expectations in our midst
- iMaverick, Wednesday 19 October
- Finding one's humanity where little else remains
- Food security: A matter of war and peace