Thandi has passed matric with flying colours. She has been accepted at the University of Cape Town, but has no laptop. At least she is tech-savvy. Sipho on the other hand is from a rural school and has performed well, but is anxious about his course because it requires prior knowledge of information communication technology (ICT). Hennie has no anxieties. He has it all.
These learners have gone through a schooling system in the same country, with the same curriculum, but from schools with different resources. Something is wrong. Their tertiary experiences will reveal the negative impact of an unequal system. This has far-reaching implications and may also affect their job prospects. Is this the future we desire for our children? The answer is a resounding “no!”
In 2018, the Gauteng education department claimed the number one spot in matric results. Celebrations abounded. Were the results worth celebrating? One particular issue was dominant among critics: inequality.
The MEC for education in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi, compares the education in the province to a four-legged table made up of unequal-sized legs and, as he says, “the table will topple — eventually”.
The unequal distribution of resources is of great concern for the department. It has implications across various schooling aspects. Schools with fewer resources are not able to recruit quality teachers. Libraries are not fully supplied and laboratories are ill-equipped. This affects the education outcomes.
The Gauteng education department has launched several interventions to address levels of inequality. It is important to note that interventions in the province started in 1994 and will continue. In the past five years, the department introduced further interventions over and above those contained in the review.
First, it was to change the infrastructure through construction of the new generation schools across Gauteng. In 2014, the concept of the smart classroom — equipped with a smartboard, connectivity and learner and teacher devices — was introduced. The first smart classrooms were launched in Tembisa, Alexandra and Boksburg, targeting grade 12 learners in all secondary schools. The vision of the department is to use technology to give learners in South Africa a competitive edge.
In 2016, the department introduced the twinning of schools programme. Using technology, the programme is aimed at sharing resources. The programme uses video links for cross-teaching between well-resourced and under-resourced schools.
The provincial government’s transformation strategy established five economic corridors aimed at developing Gauteng. The Schools of Specialisation were introduced to align to these corridors and respond to industry needs. Some of the schools launched to date are the arts, engineering, nuclear technology and aviation schools.
One of the key initiatives was aimed at learner support. The secondary schools improvement programme (SSIP) won a UN award in 2015 as the best secondary school intervention strategy in the world. It is an ongoing intervention in township schools.
What evidence is there that smart classrooms, schools of specialisation, twinning of schools and SSIP are reducing inequality? Although it may be early days to fully evaluate the impact of these interventions, the 2018 matric results provide evidence that these interventions work and will continue to produce results.
Yet critics argue that while access (quantity) has improved, quality remains an area of contestation. This view is shared by Servaas van der Bergh, a professor in economics, who in 2002 argued that “despite massive resource shifts to black schools, overall matriculation results actually deteriorated in the post-apartheid period”. Sixteen years later, does this view still hold? Gavin Keeton, an associate professor at Rhodes University’s economics department, noted that to make any meaningful impact on income inequality we must invest substantively in human capital for the poor.
An analysis of the results in Gauteng show that 2018 achievements were system-wide. Rather than focusing on the overall pass rate only, the department of basic education introduced a basket of indicators that included the percentage of bachelor passes. Learner performance for the 2018 academic year improved by more than 2%, with a significant improvement in bachelor passes.
Education must be about producing nuclear physicists, pilots, car manufacturers and engineers — indispensable qualifications that will help usher South Africa into the competitive world of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Makubetse Sekhonyane is a director in the Gauteng education department. These are his own views