South Africa’s ‘failing’ Educational System

Opinion by Bill Harington


South Africa currently has over 12 million school learners, some 386 600 teachers and approximately 26 000 schools, including 1 098 registered independent or privately owned schools. When reading this, keep in mind that SA has a population of almost 57 million people and in the unemployment category SA has 6 million people that can not find work.

There are roughly 6 000 high schools (grade 7 to grade 12) in South Africa and
20 000 primary (grade 0 to grade 6) schools.

Currently, the ratio of scholars (known as “learners” in terms of the country’s outcomes-based education system) to teachers (“educators”) is 32.6 to one in government schools, while private schools generally have one teacher for every 17.5 scholars.

So how many of the students actually enrolled passed the subject (based on the department’s pathetic pass rate measure of 30%). Basically, the department is saying if you only know 1 out of three answers you passed. A shocking indication of just how poor the standards of education is in South Africa. And its no surprise the “pass rate” as reported by the department is so high, it is due to the criteria for passing being so low.

  • In 2018 the following “pass rates” were achieved when using the 30% “pass” mark.
    Accounting: 72.5%
    Economics: 73.3%
    Mathematics: 58%
  • In 2018 the following “pass rates” were achieved when using the 40% mark as a “pass”
    Accounting: 48.6%
    Economics: 44.8%
    Mathematics: 37.1%

We as South Africans need to take a long hard look at these numbers and ask how are we ever going to be competitive against other countries in terms of education levels and giving our children a fair chance in the ever-increasing open jobs market when marks like these are achieved? Our current levels of education are surely the single biggest problem that needs to be addressed in South Africa if it is to give its citizens a fair chance at employment.

In 2016 there were around 1.2 million people in grade one students. If the same amount of grade 1 students were in grade 1, 12 years ago, it means that only about 30% (400 000 odd that passed divided by the 1.2 million in grade 1 now) of pupils who start school in grade 1 actually make it all the way and pass matric. That department of basic education is absolutely nothing to be proud of.

Look at it this way, in 2016 there were 1 067 075 pupils in grade 10. And only 400 761 passed matric. So that is a pass rate of 37.56%. Basically, only 385 of pupils that were in grade 10 in 2016 passed matric in 2018. A shockingly bad figure that the department should be ashamed about.

Why is education so important in South Africa:

Education is a fundamental driver of personal, national and global development. … It is only through education that people are able to improve themselves. One of the most important factors for escaping from poverty is education.

How bad South Africa is at education:

Teacher Quality

Statistics South Africa’s 2013 general household survey cited teacher-related issues as the top challenge facing public schools.

Studies by the southern and eastern Africa consortium for monitoring educational quality, among others, have found that some 60% of people teaching math to grades one through six failed to pass tests for math at the grade level taught.

Basic Skills

The report noted South Africa’s students perform poorly at math, science, and reading.

Only 35% of sixth graders are numerate at an acceptable level, and only 3% of ninth graders are numerate. According to the World Economic Forum’s global information technology report 2014, South Africa ranks last (144 out of 144) in terms of the quality of math and science education

South Africans need to recalibrate their appreciation for the value of education and combine that newfound respect with a corresponding show of appreciation for teachers.

This will happen only with leadership—from both government officials and role models in other areas of society. Leaders need to start a drumbeat of recognition for the critical role that educators play.

At the same time, this has to be balanced with local leadership at schools, including a focus on accountability for teachers’ performance, which will improve educational quality.

Alarmingly South Africa also finished close to last – 139 out of 143 countries – when looking at the overall quality of its education system.

Our children are held captive by an ANC government who proclaims that they are the party for the people. Well, maybe the party, looting, school violence and everything that came with the left, liberal point of views, should be stopped and the fundamental focus should be on education.

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