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How to move our education forward

| September 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Mamphela Ramphele

Our acceptance of an inferior education system for the majority of our children is a symptom of our woundedness that stems from the humiliation and inferior treatment at the hands of the apartheid system.

The CMfSC launched an Education Summit on 6 June 20121 as a platform for citizens active in promoting innovations in education from the public sector, civil society organisations and the private sector to collaborate in aligning and scaling up interventions to transform our education system. The summit was to be the starting point for an education campaign driven by the citizens with the direct involvement of key partners such as Lead SA.2

We believe that our children cannot excel The transformation of our failing school system would be the most appropriate way of honouring the contributions of young people to the freedom we enjoy today. The courage on full display on 16 June 1976,3 challenged the legitimacy of a government that dished out gutter education to black children. The courage of those young people should challenge us into ensuring that every child matters and gets the best educational experience appropriate to their talents.

Our failure to transform the legacy of apartheid’s social engineering has resulted in mediocrity in education and training for the majority of black people. We have largely bought into the lie that black people do not have the capacity to excel.

We have developed high levels of tolerance for the low standards set for curriculum requirements and pupil achievements, teacher professionalism and quality of teaching, school facilities and supplies, and parental responsibilities. Acceptance of levels of mediocrity in education constitutes a crime against the humanity of our children and a threat to their future.

South Africa is blessed with a vibrant population, with the youngest average age at 24.9 years. About 20% of our population is under 10 years old. The long-term socioeconomic potential of our country is reflected in this youthful energetic population. We need to move away from seeing young people as a threat. They hold the key to our prosperity and competitiveness in the global economy.

Nurturing children and testing teachers

What needs to change? First, we need to adopt the approach of caring for each one of our children as a deserving citizen from cradle to career. Social development, health services and the education system must break the silos and learn to work together to nurture our children and support their step-by-step development into the very best that they can be.

Second, every child should be in an early childhood development programme, wherever they are. Cognitive development in the three- to nine-year period is critical to laying the foundation for success of every child.

Third, every teacher’s competence must be tested on an ongoing basis to ensure appropriate levels of skills for teaching that is child-centred. We support the call by the minister of basic education to ensure that by end of 2012 South Africa has a baseline of every teacher’s competence level. This offers an opportunity for teachers to declare their weaknesses and woundedness and be supported to address them appropriately.

Teaming up with Teach South Africa Fourth, we need to make teaching an attractive profession for the very best in every field of study. We will team up with Teach South Africa and similar innovative initiatives to promote the entry of graduates into teaching as both national service and an opportunity to test their professional calling. A two-year teaching commitment by each graduate recruited would go a long way to reinvigorating and repositioning the teaching profession as the noble profession it should always be.

Fifth, we need to make low standards history. Our children are as capable as any in tackling the challenges of mathematics, science, history, geography and language. It is also critical for children to be taught in creative learning spaces that bring out the best in them.

Creative teaching plays to the strengths of each child and makes learning fun. It is not acceptable to pitch our expectation of the achievements of our children so low that we are not embarrassed to celebrate success defined as achieving no more than less than a third of what is possible. We need to defend our children from this insult to their intelligence by refusing to accept anything lower than 50% as a pass in any subject.

Rethinking academic outcomes

Sixth, we need to insist on the provision of minimum norms and standards, a campaign currently being driven actively by Equal Education,4 where the basic minimum standard of facilities should be established and declared to set the bar for any place to qualify as a school.

The dignity of children is violated every day in mud schools, lack of toilets, absence of desks, books and basic stationery. We also need to insist on safe playgrounds and sports facilities.

Seventh, we need to break free from the trappings of measuring success only in terms of academic outcomes of education. Successful countries such as Switzerland and Germany have up to 70% of their young people choosing to follow artisan training programmes from the Grade 10 level. Technical skills training has been devalued by the legacy of exploitation of manual labour and the wounds of the associated humiliation. We need to free ourselves and promote apprenticeship systems that promote hands-on training in partnerships between schools and private companies. The prosperity of our country and higher levels of employment depend on programming our young people’s careers for success in this way.

Finally, we need to commit to supporting parents to participate actively in the encouragement of their children in their development throughout from cradle to career in order to become fully productive and engaged citizens.

Parents must participate

School governing councils can only be as effective as the level of participation by parents. Support should be provided to parents to deal with their own challenges and woundedness to enable them to rise to their responsibilities as parents and active citizens. Parents must be given accurate and real information about the results of their children and the school’s results for all national Grade 3, 6 and 9 tests.

We believe there is enough goodwill and clear intent to make this campaign that started with the 6 June summit a success. Those who participated in the summit are committed to education transformation and renewal. We invite you to join us.


1. The Education Summit was attended by education interest groups consisting of people from the government, business, NGOs and faith-based sectors, among others. See, for example, sa-1.1313346#.T9r4uRen_zN.

2. With nation building and respect for the country and its laws as key drivers, Lead SA – a media initiative – encourages all South Africans to make a difference, no matter how small, to the lives of those around them. See /196/15/50744.html.

3. The dawn of 17 June 1976 revealed burnt-out cars and trucks blocking the roads and virtually every liquor store, beer hall and community centre in greater Soweto burnt to the ground, and dead bodies lying in the streets. The official death toll was 23; others put it as high as 200. (Source: /od/apartheid/a/Soweto-Uprising-Pt2.htm.)

4. Equal Education is a movement of learners, parents, teachers and community members working for quality and equality in South African education, through analysis and activism. See

Category: Featured Articles, Spring 2012

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