5 September 2012

South Africa: Education Faces Crisis Despite Big Budget

Photo: Dylan Thomas / UKaid / Department for International Development
File Photo: "We have designed our entire system to prepare students for university, but only about five percent of learners can get into university,the other 95 percent are left high & dry" said Eugene Daniels

Capetown — Civil society, business and education specialists have formed a national education partnership to deal with the problems in South Africa' s school system, which is in crisis despite high government spending on it, a major conference has been told.

Professor Mary Metcalfe of the University of the Witwatersrand, formerly the government's top civil servant in charge of education, said the partnership was a collaborative effort to bring about significant and sustained improvement in the country's poorer schools.

The partnership would work with the government's national Department of Basic Education as well as with non-governmental partners who already had a presence in different provinces.

"We have to negotiate participation and buy-in at every level," said Metcalfe, stressing that interventions would not take place on instruction from government ministers, but would need to take root in school districts.

"We don't want interventions that run parallel to the education system so that when the intervention is withdrawn, it's not sustained," she added. Instead, the partnership would work with the state, systemically, and within the system.

The intention, said Metcalfe, was to ensure that the state's R143 billion education budget - more than 19 percent of the national budget - was spent effectively.

Education consultant Siven Maslamoney said the partnership wanted to ensure that school management teams operated effectively. "The big prize is to create accountability," he said, so that these teams took ownership of what happened at schools and took pride in achievements and results.

Eugene Daniels of the Citizens Movement and a former school district director, said the education system was distorted and needed a drastic overhaul.

"We have designed our entire system to prepare students for university, but only about five percent of learners can get into university," he said. "The other 95 percent are left high & dry."

Daniels said other countries had chosen to provide students with a university pathway and a vocational pathway and cited the example of Switzerland where, he said, 70 percent of learners chose the vocational pathway.

Calling for the country's artisans to be inundated with apprentices, Daniels challenged academics to devise curricula that gave dignity and value to vocational options and to ensure that students had a choice between vocational or university careers.

The conference is entitled "Towards Carnegie III: Strategies to Overcome Poverty and Inequality". Two earlier conferences and research programmes, looking at similar issues in the 1930 and 1980s, were funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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