The problem is bigger than we think


Lukhanyo Mangona

It is sometimes stressed in the media and other platforms that South Africa has a critical skills shortage which undermines the sustainability of our country's economy. What is not clear to the general public is the depth of this crisis.

The root of this problem is South Africa's basic education system. We just need to look at the Annual National Assessment to see how badly our children are performing in literacy and numeracy. Our children lack the foundations (literacy and numeracy) that are essential to deal with critical concepts in higher grades. This is no wonder; when one looks closely at the performance of township and rural schools it leaves one horrified.

Earlier this year at Equal Educa-tion we analysed the data of matric results to tracks how schools in Khayelitsha have been performing in critical skill subjects (such as mathematics, physical science and accounting) since the first National Curriculum Statement matric group in 2008. In all these subjects the trend is that learners in matric are leaving these subjects. The percentage of learners that take mathematics (rather than mathematics literacy) has dropped from 58% in 2008 to 34% in 2011. The other horrifying fact is that in this township only 457 learners of the 6 074 that sat for mathematics in matric in the past four years have passed the subject at 50%. The picture is similar for physical science and accounting.

Another important factor is an alarming rate of learner dropout in the further education and training (FET) band. This spoils the whole issue that we always boast about in official speak that "in South Africa we have over 95% of children in school". In reality, learners get lost in the system when they reach the FET band.

These two issues cast a spotlight on how badly we are doing in education in South Africa and that our dream of creating the skills that are necessary to support our economy is not coming true. The country is searching for answers. Desperate working class parents are anxious to rid their families of the enslaving poverty that plagues them, but their efforts result in nothing.

Equal Education is working daily to provide hope to working class communities. Our work in Cape Town with parents and youth groups is enlightening and empowering communities to take charge of their destiny. Our most active members are called "Equalisers". They are high school students in grades 8 to 12. Equalisers have a leading role in the activities of the organisation. They, along with parents, teachers, activists and community members, work with Equal Education to improve schools in their communities, and they set an example to their peers through their dedication to their own education.

Our campaigns focus on basic things that make a big difference: school infrastructure, late-coming, school libraries and the like. We have, for example, successfully campaigned for the Western Cape Education Department to fix 500 broken windows at Luhlaza High School in Khayelitsha, assisted Harry Gwala High School in Khayelitha to have its leaking roof fixed and ran a ground-breaking campaign against late-coming in 8 Khayelitsha High Schools. In some schools (Esangweni, for example) daily late-coming was reduced from over 100 learners per day to zero. This campaign also spread into other parts of Cape Town and the Eastern Cape. We are at present running a major campaign for a National Policy on School Libraries, and a campaign for Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.

Education is an end in itself. Also, education helps one to understand and demand the full realisation of the rights enshrined in the Constitution, to participate in the democratic system and bring change to education and society.

Lukhanyo Mangona heads the Equal Education Gauteng banch, based in Tembisa

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