Home » Politics and economics » It’s time we do something about our education

It’s time we do something about our education


IN 2012, I CREATED a blog ( The intent at the time, was to pen and publish my thoughts on issues concerning economics and international politics. Between that year and today, the issues I have written about have evolved drastically; way beyond the matters of economics and international politics, as was initially planned.

But the blog has largely kept its promise – to engage on political and economic issues that shape our world today. I have argued about Jacob Zuma’s first-term foreign policy, the Arab Spring, Africa’s remarkable socioeconomic progress, how cautious we must be about the rise of China; and not so long ago, about Putin’s ambitions to restore the Soviet Empire.

Of course I have been wrong in some cases, but that is, unfortunately, the case with most intellectuals. History, at some point, may judge us wrong on our intellectual work.

I think the most important one yet is titled, “Why education must be a priority for black South Africans”. In this short article, I argued that education is the only helicopter that will rescue most South Africans from dire poverty; that it’s not an affiliation to political parties, or radical economic transformation pursued by destabilizing our already poorly performing economy.

Although written two years ago, the points raised in this article remain salient. I had used myself as a paragon of hard work – a young star from an uneducated family who, with the odds against him, rigorously worked his way through to university.

I pointed out that over my career as a learner and a college student, I realized that students or learners from educated families, tended to do well on their school work. By this inference I did not mean all of them; I merely meant there was a significant correlation between the family’s level of education and the learner’s academic performance. I doubt this could be disputed by anyone.

I find it difficult to assess whether government provided me with excellent education in my teenage years. I guess if I were to analyse my twelve years of schooling, I would find many inconsistencies and puzzles that would eventually bequeath me a myriad of unanswered questions, and most importantly, with inconclusive thoughts on whether what was provided to me was best or not. Best in what way?

But I would be oblivious not to suggest that challenges were immense – the environment we lived in was not conducive to productive learning; the infrastructure was dilapidated; the passion to learn across in our neigborhoods was not there; and in some cases, some of the teachers lacked commitment to their work.

With all these challenges, I worked harder, but I would be lying to say across the entire arc of my schooling. There were ups and downs because I did not have much support, especially from the family. But at least now, to a degree, I understand why this was the case.

I do not wish a similar situation for any child attending school today. Our country ought to make progress across generations. I expect my kids to get better public education than what I was provided with when I was a young star.

But, it seems, this is where our government fails us. There have been numerous studies highlighting South Africa’s basic education crisis. Most, if not all, reach similar conclusions.

The people who are mandated to take swift reactive actions to implement educational reforms in such circumstances usually reject the findings of these studies, for political purposes. What matters to them the most is politics. Denial helps them remain in power and such reports damage their reputation and hurt their electoral campaigns.

Recently, a team of educational experts appointed by Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, was requested to examine the quality of the national senior certificate, known as “matric”. The task team’s conclusions were compelling.

In her article for IOL, Michelle Jones points out some of the conclusions from this examination:

  • The national senior certificate was “not adequate” and there was an “urgent need for an appropriate vocational track”.
  • There were “serious concerns” about the quality of several aspects of the exam process.
  • Well-trained, fully professional teachers were “ultimately” the key to the development of the education system.

The most saddening thing about these findings is that they severely affect poor communities, whose populations are predominantly black. This is very disadvantageous, given the history of blacks in South Africa. This majority, already faces a huge challenge – to surmount the legacy of apartheid and eradicate abject poverty amongst its population.

The main weapon to win this battle is education, at least in my opinion. And to hear such discomforting findings is quite disturbing.

Michelle Jones further outlined the task team’s recommendations based on the findings:

  • All schools should be required to offer maths
  • Requirements for the selection of exam markers should be raised
  • Life orientation should be removed from the promotion requirements of the national senior certificate
  • An exit certificate for Grade 9 should be introduced
  • The standard of African languages at home language level be investigated

It’s hard for me to make judgements on whether these recommendations would be a panacea to South Africa’s educational shortcomings because I am not well-versed on critical issues that define South African basic education today. I also do not think I am qualified to make sweeping pronouncements about what could save us from this mess.

Perhaps I should consult my friend, Dr. Stephen Taylor, who is a Researcher at the Department of Basic Education. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) on education economics; has several publications on South African education. I think he will be the best person to enlighten me.

What I am certain of though, is that serious improvements are needed to better our education. The starting point will be from those who we elect into power, to humbly accept such findings from independent bodies, and work towards finding solutions that will benefit us all around the country.

Actually, I hope some action is being taken to discern these findings, and perhaps furthermore, assess these recommendations and implement them where appropriate.

In conclusion, I grew up in an environment that did not glorify education much. At school level, challenges abounded. Working my way to Rhodes University, and then to the University of Cape Town for my post-graduate studies, came at a huge price. So much was in invested in the cause; although I think outcomes could have been much better.

In any circumstances, I do not want to see the same for the South African youth. They deserve better. I just wish the fate of their education did not solely lie in the hands of the political elite, whose intentions transcends their official duties enshrined in our beautiful constitution.

I’m not really a fan of public education, but since about 95% of South African children attend public schools, we have to work on improving the public system, at least the above mentioned findings suggest so.

To evade what I went through in my teenage years, it’s time South Africans do something about their education. PM


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