/ 12 November 2010

Time for us to talk

Time For Us To Talk

For a so-called Cinderella of our education system, adult basic education and training (Abet) is letting down a lot of people — around 10-million adults, according to government’s own estimates in 2007.

Or, as Abet expert and academic Ivor Baatjes puts it, Abet is failing the 14-million South African adults who have less than 10 years of schooling but “whose education and training are meant to contribute to the socioeconomic development of this country”.

But if, as Baatjes says, the public silence on Abet is remarkable, then the lack of a national outcry about the other Cinderella of our system, early childhood development (ECD), defies belief.

The Mail & Guardian will report on ECD next week, but for now we can note expert views that the majority of children from birth to nine years old still have no access to adequate ECD provision — and that no policy or budgetary provisions will change this any time soon.

Schools and universities dominate public discussions of education: they are generally assumed to be more important. But the calculus that decides that is, at the very least, questionable. Stark numbers do not support this widespread prioritisation: the adults and children collectively let down by Abet and ECD outnumber 12-million school pupils and 800 000 university students; and no ethical criteria surely support it either?

And if we use the economy as a criterion for what we should discuss? Baatjes’s argument shows how narrow that is as a measure of education success.

Missing also from the national conversation are the government’s promise to the two or three million 16- to 24-year-olds who are not in education, training or employment that the further education and training (FET) colleges (formerly known as technical or vocational colleges) will rescue them. Will they? How? And when?

But the point is not to choose one or two sectors to speak about at the expense of any other. Universities and schools are certainly in a bad way: half of all undergraduates still fail to finish their degrees, for example; and as for schools, watch the basic education department’s PR machinery move into top gear from now until (and including) the day it releases the matric results.

Next week on Constitution Hill in Johannesburg will see one attempt to promote a national conversation about how our whole education system is failing the people — an attempt that will emphasise public participation and social inclusion.

“Quality education is the preserve of a privileged few,” say the Public Participation in Education Network (PPEN) and the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation (Cert) at the University of Johannesburg. The conference PPEN and Cert will hold next Friday will explore the roles that libraries, literacy, language, Abet, ECD, skills, values, higher education and discrimination play in social exclusion and why these spaces are located as crucial sites in the struggle for rights and reclaiming education as a public good.

The M&G will participate in the conference and report on its outcomes the following week.

  • The Cert/PPEN conference will be held in the Old Fort Conference Centre, Constitution Hill, on Friday November 19. For more information, call PPEN on 084 475 4760 or contact Cert’s Eugenia Sekgobela at email [email protected] or telephone 011 559 1148
  • Rights Focus

    Launched a year ago in the University of Johannesburg’s education faculty, the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation (Cert) “combines academic research with action learning, fostering educational change at the grassroots”, according to its charter.

    The centre’s research projects include the rights of refugees and undocumented migrants, education rights, multi-grade teaching and community literacy and numeracy.

    Cert’s staff also teach and supervise postgraduate students and will offer a new module on curriculum transformation in the MEd programme next year, focusing on globalisation and change, research, power and resistance.

    The Public Participation in Education Network (PPEN) was launched two years ago and includes educationists, research organisations, social movements, trade unions and NGOs. The interim steering committee includes Neville Alexander, John Samuel, Enver Motala, Brian Ramadiro and Kim Porteus.

    PPEN’s vision is “a long-term remobilisation of the public in the project of education to reclaim the right to a quality education for every person in South Africa.

    “Education remains painfully divided — a multi-tier system largely based on social class, in which a minority receives quality education, the majority doesn’t.

    “Too often, the blame for failure is laid on the poor: it is often alleged that poor schools fail because of their children, parents and teachers. PPEN rejects this, suggesting that poor schools fail because the conditions are not right for success.”