Are our Youngsters getting a Real Education?
by David Yutar
(31 August 2004)

South Africa now has an education system which lacks accountability, promotes quantity at the cost of quality and produces pupils untrained in basic skills, such as reading and writing, and ill-equipped for the modern world.

That is the disturbing message from Clive Roos, a former CEO of the Schools Governing Body Foundation and now a consultant in education matters.

Roos was speaking at the Heads of Boys' Schools' Conference at Rondebosch Boys' High School on Friday.

He said that South Africa had an education system "where nobody fails in the normal sense of the word, but somewhere along the chain, you discover to your horror that people cannot do the things they are supposed to be able to do in everyday life".

Roos started his presentation by showing a cartoon which showed a pupil saying "My special thanks to Kader Asmal (the previous minister of education) for all these qualifications... I just wish I could read or write".

Roos said that the state's education system lacked accountability and that national policy was subject to the South African Qualifications Authority Act, so that the state was no longer the ultimate authority in determining educational standards.

"In effect, what happens is that the Act is both the player and the referee in the critical area of education," he said, describing the situation as "a disaster".

Some of the manifestations of this malaise were:

the incapacity of the department (of education) to service schools or meet even its elementary obligations;

the continued poor overall senior certificate results and decline in exemption passes;

the mismatch and shortage of teachers;

the poor performance of South African pupils in international assessments.

In the Western Cape, only 35 percent of Grade 6 pupils could perform adequately at that level in literacy, while only 15 percent could perform adequately in numeracy tests.

When the same group had taken part in Grade 3 national assessments, again, only 35 percent were found to be able to read and write.

Primary schools "routinely" returned a zero percentage of pupils who could read and write at the appropriate level.

What was encouraging, however, said Roos, was that the Western Cape had moved in the direction of external assessment.

Roos described the Curriculum 2005 as "an unmitigated disaster" and predicted that the new Further Education and Training (FET) system would not be implemented on time in 2006.

"I don't think the Western Cape is ready either; KwaZulu-Natal hasn't a hope in hell and neither is Gauteng ready."

Turning to the provincial education departments, he said "one of the greatest drawbacks was that they see themselves as employers (in a labour context) rather than first and foremost, the providers of a public education".

Roos questioned the values underpinning the current philosophy of education, as espoused by the department of education.

"It should always be remembered that increased access to a poor education is of no sig-nificance at all.

"If you cannot improve access to quality education, you are not providing a service at all."

He also told the principals that "you are going to find yourselves, either by plan or by choice, having to take in more pupils".

"What you have to do is to ask (the state) for a quid pro quo - either in the form of staff or resources."

It was imperative that schools stand up for their rights and resist the government unequivocally, when faced with impractical or flawed proposals, he said.