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Back to school: What learners need most in this year’s education system

Students in class at Constantia Primary school. Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)

Students in class at Constantia Primary school. Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jan 15, 2022

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What should we as the public expect from the nine provincial education departments and the National Department of Basic Education (NDBE) at the beginning of the 2022 academic year?

All learners from Grade 1 to Grade 9 must be accommodated. Some Grade R classes are subsidised, but Grade R is not compulsory. Parents who can afford to pay for Grade R classes at private institutions obviously put their children ahead of those who cannot be enrolled for Grade R.

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The inequality starts at the earliest stage of schooling. This must be eliminated immediately. Again, one must commend the government for making education from Grade 1 to Grade 9 compulsory and free.

After 27 years of democracy, it is high time that pressure is put on the government to make education compulsory for grades R to 12. This must be the call from parents, teachers and students.

Why should 50% of our students drop out of school because we have a shortage of high schools? Teacher unions must address this major issue. Fifty percent of our students are not dropping out because they do not want to be at school – there are just not enough high schools. The education departments must be honest and tell us what their plan is to ensure we have enough high schools for students coming from primary schools.

Our education departments have had 27 years to address the qualifications of teachers. By now, all teachers in government schools should have the necessary teaching qualifications.

In 1996, the NDBE right-sized 20 000 teachers (9 000 of them in the Western Cape). They were offered special pension packages to leave. Most of the 20 000 teachers took the packages, and education suffered a major blow as experienced teachers left the system.

Language teachers, maths, physical science and accounting teachers left in droves. In 1998, the NDBE closed down 50 teacher training colleges. The universities were then left with the education of teachers. The universities had no experience in the training of teachers for primary school teaching.

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Simultaneously, the philosophy of Outcomes-Based Education (0BE) was inherited from the US (the OBE guru William Spady), Australia, New Zealand and Britain. By the time it arrived in SA, these countries were busy dismantling this dumbingdown philosophy.

Teaching in SA, from 1998 until now, has deteriorated with the practice of OBE, which is enforced stringently in government schools.

The former head of education in the Western Cape said to me, when I questioned the reasoning about OBE, that if I did not implement OBE at the school I was at, the school would see its results deteriorate.

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The results did not deteriorate at all. On the contrary, our philosophy that students had to be taught critically and thoroughly allowed our students to perform well at a matric and university level.

My advice to teachers is that, at all times, you must question whether new ideas in education are logical ideas. One thing I have learnt in education is that our children must never be used as sacrificial lambs.

There is no doubt that for schools to be effective and to address the inequalities in education in SA, we must have more teachers – not harebrained schemes where thousands of temporary teacher assistants are employed at a ridiculous salary of R3 800 a month for five months and then see whether the department has enough money to continue this stupid scheme.

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We should be able to have a student-teacher ratio of 30:1. This will bring sanity to the teaching profession. People interested in following a teaching career must get themselves qualified and not put our students at risk.

What is expected from the parents? They must take an interest in the schools they send their children to. There is so much parents can do to assist schools. I know of parents who come forward to assist other parents when it comes to financial assistance the school requests.

Teachers must do their work. I do not excuse any teacher who fails to do the work inside and outside the classroom. I never used excuses to get the best out of my students. Yes, we fight for better conditions, but it is our duty as teachers to give our children the best.

The students must always be encouraged to give their best and assist other students. Wherever I found myself, I always addressed the students as students of excellence. It worked.

* Brian Isaacs obtained a BSc (UWC) in 1975, a Secondary Teacher’s Diploma in 1976, BEd (UWC) in 1981, and MEd (UWC) in 1992. He is a former matriculant, teacher and principal at South Peninsula High School.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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