Defend Truth


‘An unmitigated disaster’ – South Africa’s education system needs widespread reforms: reports

‘An unmitigated disaster’ – South Africa’s education system needs widespread reforms: reports
Pupils in Cape Town on 16 August 2018. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

South Africa needs system-wide education reform to change the quality of teaching and learning and will require changes which include the appointment of a new basic education minister. This was put forth in a new series of reports on SA’s education system, released by the Centre for Development and Enterprise.

‘The President says that we have a silent revolution in our schools. In fact, we’re going to argue this is not true. In our view, we have a silent crisis, in one of the world’s worst-performing education systems.” 

This was according to the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) executive director, Ann Bernstein, speaking on Tuesday during the virtual launch of a series of five reports by the CDE, on South Africa’s education system. Bernstein called for a new minister of basic education, department director-general, and a “top team at national and provincial levels to achieve system-wide reform”.

Education Minister Angie Motshekga has helmed the ministry since 2009, surviving multiple Cabinet reshuffles.  

Bernstein’s call for fresh leadership was one of several recommendations made by the CDE to urgently fix South Africa’s ailing education system.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Covid has turned South Africa’s schooling crisis into a ticking time bomb

The key recommendations in the CDE’s reports focus on five areas for action to improve South Africa’s education outcomes: 

  • Tackling corruption and State Capture in education through the prohibition of cadre deployment and introducing measures that remove the South African Democratic Teachers Union’s (Sadtu’s)  stranglehold on education departments.
  • Raising accountability levels by bringing back the Annual National Assessment (ANA) tests for grades 1-9, reinvigorating an independent National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU), and giving principals more power over the appointment and management of teachers in their schools.
  • Improving teacher performance by introducing higher standards of teacher training, more effective support for existing teachers and the urgent recruitment of skilled foreign teachers in areas of shortage.
  • Installing fresh leadership in the public education system.
  • Setting realistic national and provincial performance goals.

 Speaking on Tuesday, Bernstein said: “Change will require an accurate and honest diagnosis of what is wrong and the political will to make reform happen. It also requires society upping the pressure for better schooling.” 

In the CDE’s view, public pressure could make a real difference — Bernstein said this meant making schooling reform a “big issue” in the 2024 general elections.  

“This is an unmitigated disaster that needs to be tackled with real urgency,” said Bernstein.  

She said while South Africa achieved some improvements in learning outcomes between 2005 and 2015, this has not been sustained. The falling standards became particularly apparent during Covid-19.  

Read in Daily Maverick: “After Covid, South African education is at a crossroads as we enter 2023” 

“The terrible reality is that nearly 80% of learners cannot read by the end of Grade 4 and more than 60% of Grade 5s have not mastered basic mathematical knowledge.” 

“They’ve not acquired the essential skills that they will need to continue learning, and as a result, they will almost always fail to achieve the overall education they need to succeed in an increasingly technological world,” said Bernstein.  

The poverty of learners and their families as well as ongoing infrastructure challenges all play a role. However, critical systemic issues have to be addressed, according to the report. 

“Projects, initiatives and improving infrastructure, while good in themselves, are not the answer to changing the quality of learning and teaching in our classrooms. What South Africa needs is system-wide reform,” said Bernstein. DM 

The CDE’s series of reports: 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.8% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.2% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.2% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.2%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options