Panafrican News Agency

South Africa continues to grapple with post-apartheid education

Cape Town, South Africa (PANA) – Nearly 42 years ago, South Africa was in the international spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

On June 16, 1976, a group of Soweto children set aside their textbooks and marched, en masse, to the Orlando Pirates football stadium. En route, 13-year-old Hector Peterson was shot dead by the police and the revolution to end apartheid began in earnest.

When the dust finally settled and more than 500 bodies had been recovered, the authorities began a process to ensure that South Africa’s education system would be dramatically reformed.

Ironically, the system remains a burning issue as government continues to struggle with its pledge to provide free basic education at primary and tertiary levels.

The importance of basic education was addressed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation address on Thursday. He announced that several ordinary public schools across the country would be transformed into technical high schools.

In addition to this, government will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.

“We will start with those schools that have been historically most disadvantaged and are located in the poorest communities, including multigrade, multiphase, farm and rural schools,” the president said.

Government’s plan will impact on the Early Childhood Development (ECD). With more than 700 000 children accessing ECD over the last financial year, Ramaphosa announced that the responsibility for ECD centres would migrate from the Social Development to Basic Education Ministries.

However, the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has accused Ramaphosa of neglecting schoolchildren by placing too much emphasis on tertiary students.

“He wants to provide free higher education, yet has failed to address Early Childhood Development and ensure our children stay in school,” said DA leader Mmusi Maimane.

The party’s Shadow Minister of Basic Education Nomsa Marchesi, MP, who recently visited a rural school in the Limpopo province where none of the pupils passed their final exams, also addressed the problem.

“We found dirty classrooms and rundown buildings. It is no wonder none of the learners at this school are succeeding as they are being taught in undignified conditions. It is simply a crime against these children,” said Marchesi.

She said school leadership was essential to providing quality education to learners “but school staff are being undermined by a lack of resources and terrible conditions”.

While the law guarantees all school learners the right to free basic education, graduates who attend universities and other tertiary institutions often protest against education fees and, all too often, the results are deadly.

Students at the University of Witwatersrand, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the Durban University of Technology, as well as the University of Johannesburg, this week embarked on protest action over grievances relating to fees and accommodation.

Students are calling for free accommodation for those affected by historical debt.

On Tuesday, a student, Mlungisi Madonsela, was killed on the Durban University of Technology campus after a security guard allegedly opened fire during an altercation between protesting students and security forces. And there have been many other protests on school and university campuses across the country.

Amnesty International South Africa has called on the authorities to refrain from using unnecessary and excessive force during student protests.

In response to the free education-related protests and mounting tension on university campuses across the country, Shenilla Mohamed, executive director of Amnesty International South Africa, said security forces must guarantee the rights of students to assemble peacefully and refrain from using teargas and rubber bullets against them.

The problem is that South Africa’s struggling economy has impacted on Pretoria’s ability to subsidize the needy. The World Bank last month said South Africa’s new education policy that wants to provide free tertiary education to students could negatively affect the country's national budget.

In a statement received by PANA, World Bank director Paul Noumba said there was a general consensus in South Africa on the need for a skills revolution “which will enable its youth to participate in a skills-hungry economy and make the country’s economy more competitive in a world that is constantly being reshaped by technological progress”.

The World Bank noted that the government’s free education policy would increase the demand for tertiary education by 23 percent at universities and 88 percent at Technical Vocation Education and Training (TVET) institutions. These statistics, according to the institution, is a capacity that South Africa cannot support without compromising on education quality and fiscal sustainability.

-0- PANA CU/RA 09Feb2019