In response to the question "Is the quality of and access to education enabling our economy?" I have a few questions of my own. What is quality education?
Quality education identifies a learner's cognitive development as the major explicit objective of all education systems. It emphasises education's role in promoting values and attitudes of responsible citizenship and in nurturing creative and emotional development.
It is a system of education that prepares our learners to suit the needs of foreign investment. It is a system that focuses on quality education and allows children to develop and grow in school environments that are supportive and at the same time challenging. It is a system that nurtures them to become confident, have good self-esteem and be willing to strive forward yet at the same time feel a sense of responsibility towards others and in their community. Is a system that ensures that our learners are able to use our natural resource for the benefit of our economic development as a country. We need an education system that will liberate the black majority, which is grossly affected by the injustices of the past.
The current statistics indicate that:
• 79% of white males and 73% of white females have post-matric qualifications
• 42% of Indian males and 46% of Indian females have post-matric qualifications
• 24% of Coloured males and 21% of Coloured female have post-matric qualifications
• 22% of Africans males and 20% of African females have post-matric qualification
The total quality of the education system cannot be evaluated by one race or class, but by a success of the majority of its citizens.
In this case, Africans are the majority as they constitute 77, 8% of the population; therefore the upliftment of the African child can be a redress strategy.
What is access to education?
It is the ability of all people to have equal opportunity in education, regardless of their social class, ethnic background or physical disabilities. Access to education is not a mere availability of classrooms, teachers and books; it goes beyond that. In an education system that seeks to address the problems caused by the past, access to education may involve special programmes in matters such as language and the affirmation of educators and learners on the content of subjects.
Where is education at present?
The quality of education in South Africa has not made a dent in the lives of the majority of South Africans in the 18 years of our democracy. The education that is offered by model C schools cannot be guaranteed as something that indicates that the new government has made changes in education because the system is based in the old.
The pre-1994 status quo has remained and it is now lucrative business for the elite. The new system is unable to take shape or form as it is plagued by the five year syndrome: since the introduction of outcomes-based education (OBE), every five years the education system has changed to the extent that we are not sure as to what kind of education is offered today.
The teachers at the chalk-face are confused about where to place the latest version, Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (Caps), within OBE, as the changes that have happened are countless and the educator is the same, so who is to implement these changes?
How does the economy impact on education?
The system that drives education in South Africa must be geared to meet the needs of all South Africans in all corners of the nine provinces. For education to enable our economy and be responsive it needs to fulfil two requirements. First, we need to have an early childhood development programme that is defined, takes into account all the development needs of a child and is provided to all children.
We do not at present have that because each province has its own plan and there is no shared vision of reaching the plans indicated in the Action Plan 2014 to Schooling 2025. They seem to be unattainable as some provinces are not moving towards attaining those set out goals. Take, for example, the goal that all education practitioners will be paid R5 000 a month. There are provinces that still pay only R3 500 a month. Another intervention that was to assist us in being responsive to holistic development of our children was balanced nutrition, which is currently tainted by the tender system, thus compromising any real value being delivered to the children.
Second, the system of education has to be responsive to the economy. The problem, though, is that the economy of South Africa is not built so that the education system can respond to it. Our economy is driven by foreign investment rather than by the country itself. If we were in a country with an economic plan that indicates the directions that the country is going in, where our strengths lie or areas which should grow, we would be able to have a curriculum that responds by making sure that the learners are qualified to meet the needs of that economy. But our economy is such that we are consumers rather than producers of goods and services. South Africa transports its raw materials to other countries and purchases completed goods and this, in turn, determines how our system of education is built: an economy that serves the needs of the people of South Africa is a system that works for foreign investors. For instance, the Kimberly Big Hole, the biggest in the world, did not make South Africa richer or the local people of Kimberly better off. Instead, foreign investors have diamond reserves in their countries.
I conclude that for the quality of and access to education to enable our economy, we need a government that has a clear plan of what it is that we need and what plans there are for us to move to inform and enable our economy to grow and develop.
Mamaponya Makgoba is president of the Professional Educators Union