Stand up and be counted
The minister in the presidency in charge of planning and chairperson of the national planning commission, Trevor Manuel, gave a thought-proving keynote speech to a packed auditorium at Groenberg Secondary School in Grabouw in the Western Cape. Manuel’s theme was improving the quality of education in South Africa. The occasion was the 2012 Rachel’s Angel annual lecture. Rachel’s Angels is a project aimed at contributing towards building excellence in high school education in the province. It includes mentorship programmes for grade 11 pupils from 20 disadvantaged schools given by second- and third-year students from Stellenbosch University. The project was founded in 2007 as a joint venture between Media24 and the university and was named after its co-founder and chairperson of the Rachel’s Angels Trust, Professor Rachel Jafta of the department of economics.
Manuel acknowledged the crisis in education but said that there was a way to change the status quo. “South Korea invested in maths and science. In Germany, artisans earn as much as a university professor. China lifted 700-million people out of poverty,” said Manual. In South Africa, he said, the planning commission’s Vision 2030 plan was about fixing simple things. “We have to engage parents, and schools should begin to be accountable to the communities they serve through school governing bodies. Community involvement is going to write a change in the history of education”. Manuel said South Africa had a responsibility to ensure the positive future of education in the next 18 years. “You cannot pass sole responsibility to government. Everyone has to get involved, including the pupils here tonight, who will be the country’s leaders in 18 years’ time. It is a role that the government, teachers, civil society and businesses have to be involved in. ”Commenting on the Rachel’s Angels Trust, Manuel said there needed to be more “angels” to implement programmes to improve the quality of education and mentor pupils, some of whom were the first generation in their families to complete matric.
Inequality is a difficult issue
According to Manuel, inequality in South Africa is a difficult issue because many pupils come from communities in which education is neither attainable nor a high priority. In this regard, Manuel said, there was no longer room for hollow promises and several important issues with regard to better education needed attention. “One is to look at education in its entirety from the foundation phase to high school and post-school education that should include trade and artisanships, as well as post-university research and innovation. It is no longer enough to get through school or university. You only have to look at the United States to see that there are 1.5-million BA graduates that are unemployed because they have not been trained in skills that are needed. ”He commented that under apartheid teachers had a certain pride and commitment to producing good students. “Then we had liberation and what are we doing now with education and where are we going with it, remembering and treasuring the sacrifices of those who fought for it?”
Empowering parental involvement
Manuel said the vision for education had to include parental involvement, because parents outsourced their responsibility to teachers. He admitted that there was still a huge divide between former model C schools and township schools, although they all received the same state funding. “We have to empower parents and encourage and strengthen school governing bodies. It amazes me that at some schools parents are not told what is happening with their children’s education. They need to take an active role in education and encourage their children at home as well as at school.”The role of teachers came under the spotlight too. “We need to ensure that teachers feel accountable to principals. Principals need to be appointed on competency and skills — it is a job that requires a skills set to manage 1200 pupils.”
Holistic approach to mentoring
Jafta, who was a nominee for the Shoprite Checkers Woman of the Year award for her contribution to education, said the aim of the board of trustees’ was to make a difference in education that went beyond academia. “We take a holistic approach in helping students from similar disadvantaged backgrounds who have problems adjusting to the alien environment of university. They have no role models and by the time they get used to university life three months have already gone by, they are late for their first test series and start to lose confidence as they lag behind their peers.”Jafta said the mentoring process built confidence and prepared students for life after school. “The Rachel’s Angels Trust stands for academic excellence. We encourage participating schools to compete and do better every year.
“Last year the pass rate was very good, as 95% of our ‘angels’ passed matric.”Luzelle Lestrade, the trust’s deputy chairperson, said the lecture series was started two years ago as a platform for social dialogue. “It is an occasion for community dialogue where the school community, including our teachers, community leaders, parents, pupils, academics and the community at large, can come together to discuss issues that affect our lives and those of our children, our communities and our nation. “We envisioned a platform where we can empower each other to do what we can, together with our leaders, to make South Africa a better place.”