Opinionista Sipho Hlongwane 10 January 2013

Implementing the NDP: Start with education

After the usual round of back-patting by the department of education following the announcement of the matric results, it is obvious that they perhaps failed to read the National Development Plan in full. If President Jacob Zuma is serious about this plan, then education is a good place to start. Time to start raising the bar, Mr President.

The NDP was endorsed by the African National Congress leadership at the party’s 53rd elective conference in December. Crafted by a team of experts with public input – and under the guidance of Trevor Manuel and Cyril Ramaphosa – it describes the kind of country it wants South Africa to be in 2030, and how we should get there.

In the wake of comments by basic education minister Angie Motshekga, it seems that she may have forgotten what the country’s new blueprint says about education. 

Many of the goals set out by the plan will not be achieved if there is no drastic improvement in the number of students who leave high schools with the marks to enter university and develop employable skills. These include increasing employment from 13 million in 2010 to 24 million in 2030, raising per capita income from R50,000 in 2010 to R120,000 and increasing the share of national income of the bottom 40% from 6% to 10%.

The 2012 matric pass rate was 73.9%, up from 70.2% in 2011 – but only 26.6% received exemption and the ability to attend a university. In comparison, schools belonging to the Independent Examination Board achieved a 98.2% pass rate, with an exemption rate of 83.6%. 

At the ceremony where the department of basic education (DBE) announced the matric results for 2012, Motshekga said: “It (the matric result) is worth celebrating, even though we still have challenges… But there is no crisis.” 

However, detractors are pointing out that this artificial improvement is hiding the reality. 

According to Equal Education, only half the students who started Grade 1 in 2001 made it to matric. The system is haemorrhaging students, in other words. 

Equal Education complained that the government was not ensuring enough resources got to the poorest schools. 

“The country’s public schools are arranged in terms of ‘quintiles’ based on their wealth. The poorest 20% of schools are in quintile one and the richest 20% are in quintile five. Schools classified as quintiles one, two and three are mostly located in rural areas and townships. Because they remain under-resourced they perform more poorly than the wealthier schools in quintiles four and five,” said Doron Isaacs, the organisation’s deputy secretary general. 

However, EE said that there were some positives in the results. “EE is cautiously optimistic that we are slowly beginning to see the combined effects of moving away from OBE [Outcomes Based Education], the introduction of workbooks, somewhat improved textbooks access (Limpopo notwithstanding), a marginally more motivated teacher body, and an increasingly active citizenry and civil society,” the organisation said.

Unlike the minister, the director-general in the DBE, Bobby Soobrayan, has sounded a note of caution. He said that the media and public should pay attention to the pass rate, and not just the number that passed.

This is on top of the department failing to deliver textbooks to certain schools as late as August last year in Limpopo. Motshekga has promised that they are ready for 2013 in that regard. According to Section27, a non-governmental organisation that brought lawsuits against the government last year for failing to deliver textbooks, deliveries were done on time for the coming year, with only a handful of shortages noted. 

The NDP seeks to establish an “education accountability chain, with lines of responsibility from state to classroom.”

It recommends that a campaign to improve the infrastructure of the poorest schools be implemented.

With unemployment amongst the 18- to 25-year-old bracket sitting at about 50%, it’s beyond obvious that the youth are the worst affected. 

“This is a crisis. We call it a ticking bomb,” said Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu’s general secretary, according to the Mail & Guardian. “We think that one day there may be an explosion. Seventy-three percent of people who are unemployed in South Africa are below the age of 35 and a lot of them have been to universities.

“If we look at lots of our cities, they are all surrounded by a ring of fire. We have seen in almost every direction around Johannesburg, periodic violent protest actions led by young people and women, the two sections of the community that bear the brunt of that crisis of unemployment.”

The first thing Zuma could do is make Motshekga stop refusing to recognise the sub-standard level of education in public schools, and the massive drop-out rate, as a crisis. It seems like the deafening chorus of outrage being directed at the DBE is being heard on some level, but the pace is always going to be glacial if the executive cannot just admit to the size of the problem. 

The department needs to stop punishing whistle-blowers who come forward. We talked to Solomon Tshitangano, a man who until the beginning of last year worked for the DBE, is fighting in court to keep his job after he was sacked, ostensibly for blowing the whistle on major tender fraud related to the delivery of textbooks to schools. Whilst many tripartite alliance leaders have slammed corruption (the ANC said in its economic transformation resolution document from the Mangaung conference that the tender system should be relied on less in future), the treatment of whistle-blowers leaves only one message: do not risk it, nobody in power will come to your aid. (The tragic case of Moss Phakoe is very instructive.)

The department must find a happy compromise with the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU). The union habitually http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Sadtu-joins-strike-20100817 embarks on strikes, to the detriment of students. Recent statements made by the union about Soobrayan do not encourage us to think that the relationship is going to improve anytime soon.  

These are things that can be done tomorrow, without us needing to wait for NGO lawsuits or next year’s matric results to do something. 

As with so many things, one arm of the government recognises the problem, but the one responsible doesn’t, and isn’t pressed to change much. If Zuma really wants to carry out the NDP, then he could professionalise the government by holding the DBE accountable. 

And really, can we please stop waiting for court cases before recognising and implementing Constitutional obligations across ministries, Mr Zuma? DM


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