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Providing all our learners, in all our schools, with a better education

| November 5, 2010
Independent Education chats to Professor George Euvrard.

The Eastern Cape has long been considered one of the worst-faring provinces in terms of public/state education delivery and achievement. What are the main challenges still facing the public school system in the region?

Superficially, the simple challenge is to have well-prepared teachers, in the classrooms, teaching. Below that, however, lies a morass of complex, interwoven, politically fraught problems.

There is no easy solution. Formulae of blame are popular but unhelpful. Every sector is responsible both for the education disaster in the Eastern Cape, and for its salvation.

We seem to lack a culture of agency and responsibility, not just in the education profession, but in our communities countrywide. The focus is
generally on what others haven’t done, rather than on what we can do. In my opinion, one of the most important challenges for all sectors of the Eastern Cape education profession is that of changing a mindset from ‘you  can’t’ to ‘we can’. Until this happens, I cannot see much else changing.

What are the main challenges facing public schools in the Grahamstown area?

The public schools in the Grahamstown area range enormously in terms of functioning and composition, so it is very difficult to give a general response. Common denominators would probably be issues like lack of parental involvement, while differences will range from practically supporting learners who head up households, to the more subtle nuances of helping children find some purpose in life.

How did the recent public sector strike play out in Grahamstown? What was its impact on schools?

Once again, the effect was varied. Wherever the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) predominated, the schooling system collapsed. I was deeply disturbed by a more dangerous impact, though. It seems as if a more sinister effect has taken place, probably over many years. I read many reports of interviews with learners, especially Grade 12s. When asked what they were doing during the strike, most responded that there was no school therefore nothing to do, and so they were just watching TV or ‘whatever’. I fear that many teachers have modelled the world view that we are helpless pawns of powers beyond us, with little capacity ourselves to make things
happen for the better. The emphasis seems to be on ‘I failed because…’ rather than ‘I succeeded despite…’. But we can change our mindset and we can rise to the challenges – if we want to. The Soccer World Cup is an excellent example.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was not interested in any excuses or ‘reasons’ for failure; South Africa simply had to produce the goods. No question. And we did. We can. But, for most of the time, we ignore our glorious potential as a nation and wallow in our mediocrity and excuses. It’s as if we don’t believe in ourselves.

The recent strike will therefore affect the forthcoming examinations badly.

What do you think of Minister Motshekga’s proposed revised education plan? Which aspects are most significant for schools in the Eastern Cape?

The Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) have the potential to simplify the curriculum and hopefully get teachers back to basics. Some subjects have much-improved curricula; others, however, have gone backwards. A better mixture of outcomes-based ducation (OBE) and CAPS is needed. Specifying the content is appropriate  for the majority of teachers, but they also need clear direction with regard to the purpose of the content; how it all hangs together with what goal in mind. With regard to the Grade 12 catchup plan, to be honest, nothing significant can really be done at this late stage. But let us look at the bigger picture beyond the 2010 class. We have to start getting schooling right from the beginning, from Grade 1. Let’s forget the quick-fixes we’ve been trying since 1994, and focus on a 30-year plan. I’m pleased to say that there are people in both the Department of Basic Education and Department of Higher Education and Training who are thinking this way too.

What role should independent schools in  Grahamstown play in terms of general education improvement?

Let me put it another way: are we (the Grahamstown/Rhini community) using the educational resources we have to the optimal benefit of our children? The answer is clearly ‘no’. And it is a two-way ‘no’. There are mutual benefits which are not being explored or realised. If we start to think of our children as those belonging to our bigger community and not just to our school, we might make more progress in providing all our learners, in all our schools, with a better education.

George Euvrard is the outgoing Dean of the Faculty of Education at Rhodes University.


Category: Featured Articles, Summer 2010

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