Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela
When our former President Nelson Mandela shared the aforementioned quote along with countless other quotes made by many other South African leaders regarding the importance of education and their vision for the new South Africa that they had imagined including an education system that would empower all. In an honest attempt at redressing our nations dreadful past; the business of the day was to set out on a mission to create an education system that would be all inclusive and see a nation progress through the empowerment of all it’s people.
The first order of business then became allocating a large chunk of our financial budget towards an education department that would potentially drive this country forward.
Fast track 23 years later, and nothing has changed.
We are still allocating the biggest chunk of our budget towards education, 17.5% in 2017 which directly related to R240 billion. We have a high-cost, low-performing education system that cannot compare to most other African countries or similar developing economies. Furthermore, despite the hundreds of billions that are allocated towards the Education Department each year, 6 out of 100 South African children that start grade one finish with a tertiary qualification. Yes, that’s a horrible statistic.
In 2017 we are still facing challenges, such as a shortage of teachers. Some may argue that one way of alleviating this stress would be to reinstate the old teaching colleges that used to exist; which used to produce far more teachers than the current system is. Currently, one is only able to become an teacher on any level through obtaining an education degree at a university. This ensures that all teachers graduate with the same training, skills and knowledge, which is great but when only feeding a profession through one source; it is bound to create a shortage of workers within said profession, especially if many workers are needed. Thus, when we only limit teaching opportunities to universities, which are already very limited in the amount of students that they are able to accept, together with exclusionary high fees, it’s easy to see how South Africa faces a shortage of teachers. Couple that with an inadequate salary and watch the numbers of teachers graduating each year fall drastically. On the other hand, the government has put forth many bursaries towards studying a Bachelor of Education which has seen an increase of teachers graduating from universities but not enough to drastically close the gap.
In addition, many, dare I say most of our public schools face a lack of sufficient resources and inadequate infrastructure. There is a massive disparity between the quality of education at resourced and under-resourced schools. The lack of the quality of the education that is delivered is not only attributed to the lack of resources but also to teachers often not being trained adequately to teach new curricula.
Furthermore, many of our learners are first-generation students, be it high school and/or university graduates. Their families just weren’t afforded the same opportunities as a result of the Apartheid regime. However, many of these families understand the power and importance of education but education is not always the priority. In many cases, families will send their children to school and won’t know how to properly encourage and support their children’s academic careers. As a result, many teachers spend precious teaching time focusing on classroom discipline.
As a nation we need to be asking the right questions,
Why does it look like the state of our country’s education system is not seeming to get better?
What’s hindering it’s growth when so much money is being allocated towards it?
What is the R240 billion being spent on?
What are the practical solutions to our education crisis?
What are other African and developing countries doing right, that we aren’t?
Do we truly believe that education is the most powerful weapon used to change world, or do we just throw it around because it sounds like the right thing to say.