The root of South Africa’s problems and lack of a skilled labour force stems from the poor education system and with those given the responsibility to administer the nations education system. The main cause of unemployment, poverty and inequality in South Africa today is not only because of the history of Apartheid but due to the bad education, lack of accountability in government and low standards of our schooling system today.
There is growing concern by businesses and universities over the failure and ability of most school pupils to pass mathematics. Given this failure and lack of will in government to address this issue is causing a skills shortage in numerous professions in the country.
It is a universally accepted principle that education is the catalyst for any economic and human growth within a society and is a fundamental human right which has a direct effect on any democracy and political stability.
Research has shown that the vast majority of South African school students are opting for mathematical literacy because they feel that they would rather opt for subject that they have a chance of passing. In the recent World Economic Forum review and study on maths and science education ranked South Africa 133 out of 142 countries overall. When it came to maths and science education, South Africa came in at 141 ahead of Yemen in last place.
Studies have shown that the country’s education system is failing to achieve basic standards of numeracy and literacy in grades three and six. A former Wits University mathematics lecturer Lynn Bowie, was quoted as saying that, “The problems in mathematics education in South Africa do not begin at matric level. Both research and personal experience indicates that many of our learners do not get a firm foundation in mathematics at primary school and so enter high school without the skills necessary to progress in mathematics.”
The basics premise of any education system is that education is built upon what is learnt in the previous year. If pupils do not get a good foundation in mathematics is highly unlikely that these pupils will be able to succeed at higher levels as they progress through the education system.
While we can point fingers at the Education Department and lack of government will and accountability to tackle the failures in the country’s education system, we must also look at the pupils and their commitments and will to study. According to many reports and statements from teachers, who are too afraid to speak publicly to protect their jobs, blame students and parents for the lack of commitment to their education. Teachers say that pupils do just enough in class to achieve a pass mark but do not practise what they re learning and when they fail it is always the teachers who take the brunt of the blame and responsibility. Those students who take their education seriously and value the benefits of a good education do well and go on to achieve university degrees. Many teachers feel that the government lowers the education standards in order to create the impression that the pass rates are good and improving.
Education is should not a used as a political tool to gain four in the eyes of the voting public. Rather it is enshrined in the constitution as a basic right for all individuals to have access to education.
There is a feeling amongst many parents in the country that they would prefer that their children attend private schools because they feel that public school teachers do the bare minimum and lack commitment to their profession. parents understand that teachers have a preference towards private schools given the higher salaries and better work environment.
The National Planning Commission has published statistics that teachers in black schools teach on average only 3.5 hours per day as compared to 6.5 hours per day in former while schools.
Currently, in order for student to achieve a pass mark for maths all they need is between 30 and 40 percent. This is a deeply worrying fact given that this result does not permit the student to enroll in any degree that requires mathematics at universities.
To achieve the minimum pass mark for maths, student need only to display that they have mastered only fairly routine procedures according to Lynn Bowie. “To be able to cope with the rigours of university mathematics learners would need to have demonstrated capabilities in dealing with more complex procedures and in problem-solving.”
Over the past few years, only a small fraction (less than 20 000) of the total number of students sitting for their matric exams, roughly half-a-million , are able to achieve the results in mathematics that is required by universities in order to cope the high level of mathematics required by degrees such as engineering or actuarial science.
This low standard and lack of student being able to achieve good results in mathematics is having a huge effect on the labour force and number of skilled professionals required to grow the economy.
A student, who prefers to remain anonymous, who attended ML Sultan Secondary School, a public school in Pietermaritzburg, gained entry to pursue mathematics at Wits University attributes his success to hard work and a dedicated teacher who offered extra lessons over weekends. All those participating in the group all achieved good grades in Matric. The student is of the opinion that the government and Department of Education are not serious about improving the standards of education in the country.
Upon graduation the pupil applied to education department for a job to assist mathematics pupils in Pietermaritzburg region and in return all the pupils was asking was transport money as compensation. The Department of Education has not replied to the student request.
Last year, South Africa’s expenditure on education was 6% of gross domestic product. In the 2012/13 financial year, education would account for almost R207 billion.
Statistics from the South African Institute of Race Relations show that at least 84 high schools do not offer mathematics for grades 10 to 12 last year. The Limpopo province having the highest number of school not offering mathematics. The reason for this is the lack of qualified teachers on a national basis.
The reality and research has shown that the vast majority of pupils who perform poorly in mathematics in Matric are black students which in turn rings alarm bells hen it comes to fixing inequalities in certain faculties at tertiary institutions if not impossible.
Currently all matric students undertake the same exam in mathematics if they want to pusue a career in engineering at university level or if it s basic requirement for a technically-related trade they wanted to pursue. “Our one-size-fits-all mathematics curriculum and school-leaving examination is unusual in the international context and perhaps needs to be reconsidered,” said Bowie.
The success or failure of students does not only fall on the quality of teachers and principles at schools, but also lies with parents, government commitment and accountability, and the Department of Education.