A second chance

If nothing else, the country’s matric results are a loud and painful reminder that the education system is in need of a major overhaul. Although analysts and educational practitioners differ about what is to be done, what is indisputable is that ways and means must be found to accommodate failure and success.

The department of education (DoE) has allocated R60-million, secured from the national treasury, towards a “special tuition programme”. This is to give a second chance to 196 164 learners who failed matric last year. The number of learners who sat for the examinations was 564 775.

A growing national concern, however, is whether the country’s overall matric output can contribute meaningfully to the growth of the economy, given the overwhelming number of students failing annually.

Kwandiwe Kondlo of the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Sacci), formerly Sacob, says inadequately trained matriculants are a serious concern.

The education system needs to look at the quantity and the calibre of matriculants produced, he says. He adds, however, that there are many factors contributing to the inconsistencies in matric results and that it is still too early to point fingers at the education system.

“Kids who have been through the new system (post-1994) have not come out yet. What we have now are remnants from the old system. We need to give the education system a chance,” he says.

Sacci will set up a standing committee on education and training before the end of March 2008, Kondo says. “This committee will consist of the captains (of our companies) who will meet to look for ways in which we can improve the quality of our education.’

Penny Vinjevold, deputy director-general for further education and training (FET), says the matric support programme will give the learners an opportunity to rewrite matric so that they still have a chance to pursue tertiary education. This means that failed matriculants, who cannot fit into the newly revised curriculum, could have a secure future.

“We will offer special tuition this year only to those learners who failed matric in 2007. After this, learners can study until 2011 but this would be without the assistance of DoE. This they can do through adult centres or FET colleges,” says Vinjevold.

The funds will be distributed to provinces and the amounts will be based on the number of learners enrolled in the province. District offices will coordinate enrolment. On registration, learners will be issued study materials and timetables for tuition and dates for examinations in May this year, says Vinjevold.

Qualified personnel have been recruited to deliver tuition. These include retired teachers and lecturers, says Vinjevold. Tuition classes will be held in the mornings, afternoons and weekends at designated community-based halls and centres.

Despite this ambitious initiative by DoE, some education experts have expressed reservations about its success, citing “unrealistic expectations”.

Mary Metcalfe, the former Gauteng MEC for education and current head of Wits University’s school of education, doubts the viability of the programme. “It’s good to give young people who are willing to try another chance. But it would take a very unusual student to be successful having failed last year.”

This is the fourth consecutive year that matric results have plummeted. In 2006 the overall pass rate stood at 66,6%, a drop of 1,7% from the previous year. This year the results dropped to 65,2%, showing a 1,3% decline. The overall national endorsement has dipped to a lowly 15,1%. This means that only 85 000 learners qualify for university education.

Hussein Solomon, who lectures in the department of political studies at the University of Pretoria, says South Africa’s education budget exceeds the world average of 4,7% of gross domestic product. But the “returns hardly justify the massive investment”.

“In various tests of students over the years, measuring their abilities in reading, mathematics, science or computer technology, South Africa has come last. Indeed, we were outperformed by poorer African countries such as Ghana, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt,” says Solomon.

Education Minister Naledi Pandor concedes that there are shortcomings in the school system. But she puts the blame on the provinces, which have failed to implement the national office’s strategy to provide adequate support for schools.

“If the strategies were followed purely as we set them out, I suspect we would have different results,” Pandor told the Sunday Times.

Another concern about the results is that more learners are taking maths and science at standard grade instead of the preferred higher grade. For instance, there were 87 485 standard grade passes in science this year, a marked increase from 81 151 last year.

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