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One of the goals stated in the National Development Plan (NDP) is for 90% of grades 3, 6 and 9 learners to achieve 50% or more in annual national assessments for literacy, mathematics and science by 2030. When asked whether they feel this goal is realistic, only 26% of South African graduate professionals said yes. The survey was conducted among almost 6000 graduate professionals by PPS - the financial services provider focused on graduate professionals.
According to Motshabi Nomvethe, Technical Marketing Specialist at PPS, this result is quite concerning. “There is clearly very little confidence in the schooling system. Over half (54%) of the 74% of respondents who indicated that these goals were not realistic, the main reason cited, was that the schooling system is inadequate, followed by 24% who said that there is a lack of quality teachers.”
Some of the reasons for this, includes a lack of communication and co-ordination between governmental departments within the education system, says Nomvethe. “From an infrastructure point of view, especially as a result of urbanisation and a growing population, we are seeing many new housing developments, but these are not supported by other infrastructure like schools, libraries, healthcare or recreational facilities. This is often witnessed at the beginning of the year when children need to be enrolled into grade 1 and there isn’t enough room in the schools to accept all the children. Other problems include the frequent changing of the school curriculum and no clear policy direction within the education system,” she explains.
Having the right teachers, with the requisite technical and soft skills is imperative, she adds. “Proper training and integration of teachers into the schooling system is vital. This is where internships and mentorship programmes for student teachers can make a huge difference. Student teachers should be encouraged to partake in internships during their holidays to gain valuable work experience before they begin working. Continuous assessment and development of current teachers will also ensure that education standards are maintained.”
Public perception of the teaching profession also needs to change, she adds. “There needs to be a greater respect cultivated for our teachers so that the youth are encouraged to enter into the profession and once they have entered, to remain in the profession and country. The significance of the teaching profession cannot be underestimated. Factors like teacher salaries, working conditions, opportunities for development and bursaries etc., should be evaluated if we want to recruit, motivate and retain quality teachers in the country. Perhaps incentives can also be introduced as a means to measure performance and good pass rates.”
When the graduate professional respondents were asked how government should raise funds for free education in the country, 38% said that free education is simply not a viable solution in a developing country like South Africa.
This is a realistic result, says Nomvethe. “We all need to remember that although some elements of our economy are first world, we are predominantly still a developing country and cannot have the same expectations or privileges of a first world country. In a first world country, free education is possible, but in South Africa, the National Budget has to go towards other priorities such as social grants, health care and housing so our resources are already stretched.
On the topic of funding free education, 33% of respondents says that government spending must be adjusted to make more funds available for education subsidies. Nomvethe points to data from the National Treasury which revealed that in the 12 months ended March 2016 South Africa spent R213.7bn on basic education, which equates to roughly 15% of the total budget. This is expected to increase by an average of 7.4% annually over the next three fiscal years. Furthermore, United Nations data reveals that South Africa spends more on education that the US, UK and Germany.
These numbers clearly show that there is a significant amount of the Budget going towards education, so the real issue is not about free education but how the current Budget towards education is being spent, says Nomvethe.
Furthermore, 15% of the respondents said that student loans should be offered at a significantly lower interest rates. The current student loan offering needs to be relooked, says Nomvethe. “The majority of students now come from backgrounds where parents cannot afford higher education and do not have the resources or assets to provide security for these loans so the student loan system needs to be more flexible and accommodating of the current demographics.”
The results from the latest PPS survey reveal that there needs to be more initiatives aimed at improving the schooling system in order for graduate professionals to have greater confidence in the system, and to produce even more skilled professionals, especially on the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, concludes Nomvethe.