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Change education system to equip pupils with modern skills

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Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA) – Learners, especially those from poor communities, leave the system of basic education without the necessary skills that can help them to navigate the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality, says the writer.

By Hendrick Makaneta

This past week, yet another cohort of matriculants was showered with praise as they received their results for the Class of 2022.

The improvement by the Independent Examination Board (IEB) schools did not come as a surprise. The huge resources and high level of commitment in the schools made it easier for this cohort to perform far better than most of their peers in public schools.

Issues such as load shedding did not affect the uptown schools. On the other hand, downtown schools, particularly those in townships and poor rural communities, had to battle a lot of ills which could have made things worse.

There is no doubt that most of these schools which, in the main, belong to the state, have a long way to go in order to provide quality education. Undoubtedly, the high performers will get into top universities while those with minimum pass rates, if they do not make it to TVET colleges, might battle to overcome unemployment and be permanently lost to the system, along with their counterparts who dropped out of the system.

The reality is that learners, especially those from poor communities, leave the system of basic education without the necessary skills that can help them to navigate the challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality. The lack of skill is further exacerbated by low education outcomes where in certain subjects, learners need to obtain only 30 percent to progress.

The basic education lekgotla of 2022 resolved that there was a greater need to modernise our education system, with a view to enabling learners to receive skills. The introduction of new subjects, such as coding and robotics, might very well be able to turn around the situation in future.

Whereas we should applaud the authorities for their willingness to bring about change in this regard, it should be noted that township schools require additional resources to cope with the changing world of education.

Even though the Education Department receives a big chunk of the Treasury’s allocation every year, the truth is that there are many unresolved questions, such as pit latrines. The unresolved challenges present doubt about the capacity of the state to turn around the education system for the benefit of all children.

One way of fixing our education system is for the government to collaborate with the private sector to invest in our basic education system. Learners need to be supported throughout the academic year so that they can succeed in the system. Parental and community involvement is also required. The fact that every year, schools are vandalised is a setback to quality learning and teaching.

Generally, the system of education in its current form has a negative impact on most learners as it does not promote the acquisition of skills. Without skills, learners are bound to join the long queue of unemployment.

The department should participate in international studies, with a view to positioning our learners in a competitive environment. It is not going to help the country that we continue to compete among ourselves. Learners need to be exposed to the outside world.

The budget cuts by the National Treasury have also meant that the various provincial education departments cannot hire more new teachers, hence many schools sit with overcrowded classrooms.

The other problem is that highly experienced teachers are beginning to leave the system much earlier than their expected retirement ages due to a lack of safety in especially township schools. The result of this early retirement often means that the quality of teaching and learning is compromised.

The challenges demand that we all take drastic steps to transform our education system to make it better equipped to help learners create their future.

There is no doubt that every parent wants what is best for their children. The only thing that is often lacking, particularly in poor communities, is the active involvement of parents in the affairs of the learners at school. It might well be that parents who are not so educated often struggle to assist their learners, unlike the parents in suburbs where parental involvement is at its highest. In the interest of learner development, a mechanism must be found to bridge the divide between the two categories of parents.

We have a long way to go to get the system of our education on the right track. We need a new way of doing things. The current trajectory does not guarantee success for our learners.

We have great policies on paper but the implementation remains a challenge. We need to move away from rhetoric and start to act in the best interest of future generations. All we need is the political will to put learners first.

Hendrick Makaneta is an education activist completing an LLB degree at the University of Pretoria