The dire state of the education system in South Africa

201110 Students writing their matric exams at the Sena-Marena High School in Soweto. As the grade 12 national senior certificate exams enters its fifth week, concerns that the standards of exam papers have dropped have been raised. . 140910. picture: Chris Collingridge 637

Ever since the dismantlement of Apartheid, where the Education system was rife with inequalities against the black-majority population, there has been small strides taken by the elected democratic government to improve the Education system. Even though there has been some progress in the sense that South Africa’s spending on Education makes up for 4.9% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

According to a 2017 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), South Africa is the highest spender in the World behind leaders in quality of education Denmark and Iceland who spent 4.7% and 4.6% respectively. There is a lot of work still to be done to compete with those countries with proven formulas of an Education system.

Post-apartheid South Africa is still challenged by socio-economic inequalities such as poverty, unemployment, income inequality, life expectancy and land ownership. Colonialism and apartheid have had considerable effects on the populations literacy rates and education levels.  

The OECD study further proved that 15% of adults have not achieved primary education and 51% of 25-34 year olds lack an upper secondary or higher degree.More than half of the adult population and 16% of children aged 5-14 are still not enrolled in school. Given this stark reality, how do we as South Africans fight to redress all these inequalities plaguing our beautiful nation?

One of the ways in which this can be done is through high-quality, sustainable primary and secondary education. This has the ability to shape future generations by helping them reach tertiary level education.

High-quality education will enable them to contribute positively to South Africa and the continent as a whole in the future. Even though the government is the biggest spender in the world on education, the problem is policy implementation, especially as the education department is fraught with incompetencies and inefficient use of funds. The mismanagement of funds together with corruption have left our schools in a state beyond repair.

The current state of schools in the country has a huge impact on children’s access to basic services. The lack of access to toilet or sanitary facilities impacts not only children’s health but also prevents them from enjoying recreational activities. In addition, children are further deprived from utilising playgrounds as very few schools have the infrastructure. It is important for children to have a balance between studying and partaking in recreational activities. For e.g. children need to be able to be in an environment that is conducive to learning and playing. This is particularly important for those living in challenging environments.

A 2012 study by Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP), stated that, 1 in 5 children had been exposed to some form of violence during the school year which makes up 22.2% of the student population. Approximately 1.1 million students were victims of violence in one school year alone. While these have been reported, there might be many more  victims. Reader Farouk Araie termed this beautifully “Schools are meant to be safe zones,not war zones.Schools of our past era were imagined as havens of quaint custom and benign behaviour, in vivid contrast to the perception of today’s drug dens and ridden with violence, as teachers daily risk their lives and worthy children cannot get an education.Should this tragedy continue, society will inherit, a generation of semi-literate and under-educated pupils,who will be unable to compete in a world driven by 21st century technology.”

Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Employment Statistics (QES) found that 68 % of adults under 25 are unemployed while 40 % those between 24-34 are too. Thus, creates a domino effect of violence, crime and gangsterism which children are exposed to on a daily basis. “It was shocking to hear about the murder of a teacher by a learner on drugs in the North West province. The youth was apparently upset because the teacher stopped him from jumping the food queue at school to discipline him. The learner returned the next day to school with knife and stabbed the teacher to death in front of the rest of the children.The trauma to the other children and the teacher’s family is unimaginable” said Ellapen Rapiti.

In addition, children who come from predominantly underprivileged backgrounds or areas where parents are either working endlessly to make ends meet are vulnerable to alcohol and substance abuse. Councillor Yagyah Adams added “It is the height of stupidity to decriminalize any addiction in a nation that has one of the highest crime rates on earth. Already many of our crimes are addiction related, yet those in “authority” deem it suitable to embolden and inspire more addiction. Recently we also had our local Education Department who wanted to sell alcohol at schools.”

While parents have a critical role to play in educating their children, government has an equal part to play in ensuring policies are geared toward addressing the state of education in a far more real and result-oriented way.  

One of the ways in which this could be achieved is by actual Policy implementation by the government instead of looting funds and awarding tenders to family and friends, especially to curb unemployment and to resolve the issues faced by our young learners. Awareness seminars and workshops around alcohol/substance abuse and its consequences on the youth of tomorrow. More personnel to monitor entrances of schools, as the CJCP report also proved that the entrances of schools are like ‘market’ entrances where everyone can come in and out with illegal substances and weapons on them without any checks or fear of repercussions.

Schools should provide healthy, balanced hot meals to young learners as the majority of them cannot afford to buy or bring food to school which will eventually end part of the violence caused by hunger and thus stealing food of others through violent means. SAPS should work harder to curb violence and gangsterism in underprivileged and impoverished areas as these young minds can be picked easily by the scum that roams their streets and these children sometimes look at the gangsters as role models and as noted above the crime and violence is normalised in those environments.

If we are to progress as a society, we all have a critical role to play in making sure children have access to education. Failure to do so will not only impact children’s lives but also the future of the economy and the country as a whole. 

Waseem Bahemia is currently a student at the Centre for Film & Media Studies at the University of Cape Town, and is an intern writer and social media strategist at Voices360.