Editorial: Education failures are a failure for us all

In the coming weeks, South Africa will be assaulted by news of the education problems the country faces. This week marks the start of the school year. With laughter, tears and excitement, many learners are happy to be back in school. However, there are still hundreds of learners in Gauteng, for example, who have not yet been placed.

Other issues include the continuation of rotational classes, which has and will continue to have dire consequences on a generation of learners. 

It has been six months since Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga told parliament her department was trying to send as many children as possible to school to make up for the lost time. Primary school learners lost more than 50% of their days in 2020. A grade three learner this year has only known schooling under the pandemic. Imagine how many days of schooling they have lost in a country where 78% of grade four learners could not read for meaning according to the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. 

What’s more, this year some schools opted to continue the rotational schedule because they can’t ensure a one-metre distance between learners. These learners begin on the back foot. They aren’t alone, though. 

Next week the basic education department will release the matric results. These learners spent two years of high school under the pandemic. The 2020 class achieved a pass rate of 76.2%, which was down 5.1 percentage points from 2019. Last year’s matric class lost 50% of their grade 11 class time and were the first class to contend with amendments to the curriculum and assessment policy statement (CAPS) curriculum. It can’t be a leap to imagine that the results next week will be as low or lower than last year’s. 

We will still celebrate all matriculants, however, those entering higher education will be on the back foot. 

In just over a month, we will contend with the tertiary education financial exclusion issues that catch Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande unawares every year. Many of these students’ parents have lost their incomes. Data from the Jobs Reset Summit last year showed that one in two people worldwide saw earnings decrease, and workers in low-income countries were hardest hit by job losses. The missing middle grows and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, with a growing budget of more than R40‑billion, still is not working optimally to ensure those it funds are paid on time. Again, it is not a stretch to imagine a fiery March as students agitate for inclusive education. 

In the third year of the pandemic, we have to refocus on education. Without it we will have weak leaders in the near future. As guardians we should engage with these problems. It’s not enough for government to say they are still learning and it’s not enough for us to quietly let the next month-and-a-bit play out as if it doesn’t affect us. It does.

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