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Education needs good foundation to thrive

The class of 2012 needs to be congratulated and Unisa would also like to join the country in praising the efforts of all the role players. The hard work by the pupils, parents, officials and the minister of basic education paid dividends.

The year was not without challenges; the North West debacle, the inexplicable behaviour of some parents in the Northern Cape, the challenges in the Eastern Cape as well as the Limpopo textbook saga are but some of the obstacles that the Department of Basic Education faced.

These besmirched education and shook some critics’ belief in our system. However, the class of 2012 was able to overcome many of these hindrances and surpass yesteryear’s matric results. These results continue to be one of the yardsticks with which we measure the success of our education system. All the provinces did their best to overcome the myriad hindrances, although the Eastern Cape and Limpopo still have to overcome some hurdles. The nation needs many such successes and the ministry, as well as teachers, need to be congratulated. From here, we need to see our nation going up as this will be the only way that we can combat poverty and improve our economy. The improvement in subjects such as mathematics and physical science clearly displays that the education system is on the right track.

However, these results, pleasing as they might be, come when the annual national assessment (ANA) results are still looming large. There is still much that needs to be done to improve literacy and numeracy areas in the lower grades. It is however pleasing to note the significant improvement in the Grade 3 ANA results, indicating the potential value of investing in early childhood education. As the matric class is the last year of study at school level, it is important that more work be put in the lower grades.

While there is an improvement of 8% in the National School Certificate maths results, 54% is still not where the country should be. Similarly, the attainment of 64.3% in physical science – while encouraging – is not good enough. More needs to be done to equip teachers in these areas with the necessary skills. Professional development in subjects such as accounting, mathematics and physical science should be continuous, especially in rural and under-resourced schools. Poor schools will continue to bear the brunt of unsavoury results unless radical interventions are implemented. Education does not start at Grade 12; more commitment should be shown by teachers in all grades. Without a good foundation, few of our learners will make it at Grade 12.

Officials and teachers have an immense role to play in ensuring that pupils attain quality passes. The pupils who want to study post-matric ought not to struggle at higher education institutions. The current outcry from universities is that the matriculants are generally under-prepared for the rigours and demands of university studies. It is therefore important that improved results also improve the preparedness of first year students for university study.

The minister of higher education and training should also be complimented for making far-reaching proposals in the Green Paper on post-school education and training. It is important for parents, pupils and society to appreciate the diversity of opportunities that are to be found at universities and colleges. Matriculants should thus not close their eyes to the range of opportunities at FET Colleges. Some universities, especially Unisa, have developed partnerships with FET Colleges to enable students to move from college to university. In addition to engineers and other scarce skills produced by universities, we need technicians and artisans, including electricians and designers, if we are to expand our industrial capacity and thus grow our economy.

The schooling system thus needs to also strengthen its capacity to guide pupils on the range of opportunities and careers that are open in our democratic society.

While the matric results captured the imagination of the nation, we should not use them as the only measure of the quality or performance of our education system. Our education system will miss the point if the emphasis is solely on Grade 12, which is the exit point. Sadly, many role-players – parents, legislators, teachers and even pupils seem to believe in the magnified role of Grade 12. The ANA results enable us to look at the full spectrum of the schooling system and allow us to interrogate and invigorate the debates and move towards the real improvement of the quality of our pupils. The secret of the Grade 12 success thus lies in the achievements in lower grades.

Despite these facts, the class of 2012 needs to be applauded.

Hard work by all will ensure that the performance in schools is continually improved. Effective schooling has proven over generations to be the most effective and efficient mechanism of strengthening societies and minimising social ills. If our schooling can produce quality pupils, we will begin to realise our collective dream of attaining a fecund future in which our economy will bloom.

It is surprising that in 2012, 18 years after the attainment of our political freedom, there were seven schools that failed to register a single matric pass. We must do better.

As schools open this week, we trust and expect better performance from the class of 2013.

Professor Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor

2 comments to Education needs good foundation to thrive

  • Joy

    Let us also not forget that the pass mark is 30% !!!

  • Maphenduka Mkhosana

    Prof.M.Makhanya’s advice on the need to deepen and strenghten numeracy and literacy skills at lower levels provides a solid foundation for knowledge base at matric.Regrettably some rural schools in my area do not have enough teachers for all subjects offered till the end of the year.The result is that some learners progress to higher grade with a huge content gap on the subject without a teacher.That leads to “disaster” in matric results.

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