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The department of basic education has labelled a report stating that SA’s education system the worst in the world as a “rehash of old information and disappointing”.
On Tuesday, the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) released findings in its series of five reports on the state of SA’s education system, painting a picture of a crisis in schools.
The independent policy and research organisation said underachievement in learning outcomes by pupils, poor teacher training and support and rampant corruption were some of the reasons behind SA’s ailing education system.
However, basic education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the findings are a rehash of old information. He said the department will issue a detailed response later in the week.
“It sounds like they are not saying anything new. They are rehashing old reports but we will read the details and provide a detailed public response. It is disappointing that they keep on saying the same thing that they have been saying. The things they are saying are overtaken by time that we have resolved in other ways. Their research is based on our reports which are on our website. This is not an original report,” said Mhlanga.
In the series of reports titled The Silent Crisis: Time to Fix South Africa’s Schools, the CDE said it had done a comprehensive analysis of what is crippling the education system and what needs to be done to fix it.
CDE executive director Ann Bernstein said there should be a change in the political leadership at the helm of basic education in order to improve SA’s performance in mathematics, science and reading.
“The president speaks of a ‘silent revolution’, while the minister talks of a ‘system on the rise’. The truth is that we face a silent crisis in our schools. South Africa has one of the worst performing education systems in the world,” said Bernstein.
In its findings, CDE said in 2021, after a year of school, more than 50% of Grade 1 pupils did not know all the letters in the alphabet.
According to the annual 2030 Reading Panel report compiled by Nic Spaull, a researcher at Stellenbosch University, 50% of children in no-fee schools do not learn the letters of the alphabet by the end of grade 1 and there is no national reading plan and no national budget for reading. The report was released last month.
“South Africa’s comparative performance is shocking. When our learners take international tests, we are either last or in the bottom three countries,” said Bernstein.
The research found that four out of five teachers in public schools lack the content knowledge and pedagogical skills to teach their subjects.
Only 41% of South African teachers have a good proficiency of mathematics, compared to 95% of teachers in Kenya and 87% in Zimbabwe.
The study found that SA also has the highest teacher absenteeism rate of all SADC countries.
Another finding was the “insufficient discipline and accountability in the system, from the classroom up to the offices of some senior managers in the administration”.
“There is little accountability in our vast education system. This is a primary reason for teacher underperformance. Sadtu – the country’s dominant teacher union – has agitated against proper performance management for teachers and the national department has caved in time and again,” said Bernstein.
The report highlighted that the education system has been compromised by corruption, cadre deployment and too many incompetent staff members.
Some of the recommendations include improvement of teacher performance by introducing higher standards of teacher training, more effective support for existing teachers and the urgent recruitment of skilled foreign teachers in areas of shortage such as math and science.