Education Realities

 February 14, 2019
Comments (2)

South Africa seems to have more than its fair share of uneducated and illiterate hooligans littering the countryside. I suspect that our education system may have something to do with that. I am not a teacher and have no personal experience with teaching, but I have been in a position to overheard teachers discussing problems they have at school. For this reason I write this short article on the difficulties experienced by teachers in the normal course of their duties. All of the anecdotes and incidents described here take place in a rural Afrikaans medium school, a government "no fee" school.

It will perhaps be best to describe the situation in grade 1 classroom since that is the start of the problems. At the start of the year our dear teacher is met by about 30 to 50 pupils assigned to her, their ages range between 5 and 9 years old (some are repeating G1 for the third time). At this time the teacher has to carry out "baseline assesment" where the kids are supposed to already know the numbers 1 to 10 as well as recognise all letters of the alphabet. It is at this time when the teacher discovers that about 20% do not understand a single word of Afrikaans and have no idea of whats happening in class. The only children able to pass the "baseline assesment" test are those repeating G1. Some of the children have never seen a pencil before and try to eat it. Most of the children have no inkling about numbers or letters and are a completely blank page. Many of these children's parents are farm labourers and they have no experience of grade R at all, those that have been in grade R do at least have some very limited understanding of numbers. One can therefore understand that the first week of school is something of a nightmare for the teacher.

There are numerous other behavior problems among the children which include fighting, carrying out sexual acts, swearing and general lack of manners. Some kids will for instance not ask if they can go to the toilet, they will say "juffrou ek moet kak" (miss I need to shit). I should also mention at this time that some of the children suffer from "fetal alcohol syndrome", and only have a very limited ability to learn, this is why some pupils are repeating G 1 multiple times.

Dicipline under these conditions is a major problem and if a teacher has been called from the class and returns she will routinely find one child seated on top of another whilst beating him with his fists or trying his best to remove the arm of another child, she might also find one of the boys with his hand down the pants of one of the girls (or visa versa). By law the teacher is not allowed to carry out any form physical punishment and may not hit a child in case they suffer psychological damage.

How on earth teachers are supposed to handle situations like this is completely beyond my understanding and of course that of the teachers. It is only a matter of time before some poor teacher ends up being prosecuted for assaulting a child under these conditions, hopefully the law will then be changed to allow teachers at least some leeway, such children should be dissuaded from this sort of behavior. It should be borne in mind that not all of the children behave in such ways, however the influence of the "naughty kids" on the others will cause such behavior to spread if not nipped in the bud early.

Some say that the parents of such "difficult" children should be called in and their help sought to correct the behavior of their chidren, this also is mostly not possible since more than 50% do not live with their parents, they mostly live with grandparents, aunts or cousins, whilst the parents live on farms or in Capetown and other cities. Many of the care-givers seem not to care about the children at all (this includes parents), and seem to regard them as merely by-products of their favorite form of entertainment.

Social workers are completely swamped and seem unable to do anything for the many children who are being neglected at home. The only people who seem to care about the behavior and wellbeing of these children seems to be the teachers and children often become very attached to the teachers, sometimes to the extent that they wish to remain in the grade in order to stay with the teacher and don't want to be promoted to the next grade.

As can be seen from all the above, the learning environment is far from ideal. The non Afrikaans speaking kids only begin to understand simple instructions during the second term of school and because their parents or care-givers also don't speak Afrikaans, they get no help at all with their homework. Homework tends to be a problem with all the children as most parents or caregivers provide no help at all.

Absenteeism is also a problem with perhaps 10% being absent for more than 15 school days per year, and about 5% absent for more than 30 days per year. With all of these difficulties teachers are expected to produce children that can read and write, compose simple stories on their own, comprehend stories and be able to do basic arithmetic, all of which they are supposed to be able to do in 2 languages (in this case Afrikaans and English). In addition, teachers must also teach life orientation (basic hygiene, nutrition etc), creative art and physical education.

All of these are also the subject of tests which at G1 level can take up to 5 days per subject, depending on how many children in the class. Since there are sometimes 2 tests per term there is a huge amount of time spent on testing individual children verbally, since they can not yet read or write. This testing is of course mandatory and eats into the teachers time for giving lessons. Given the problems these teachers face, I would consider it a minor miracle if 25% of the class manage to fulfill the requirement for promotion to the next grade.

As can be seen from all of the above education in the country is far from ideal. Bear in mind that the school described above is apparently one of the better schools in the area, which is why some Xhosa speaking parents choose to send their children to this Afrikaans school in spite of them not being able to speak Afrikaans. Of course as pupils pass through G1 and on to higher grades, the problems escalate and you end up with some G5 pupils not even able to read. All of which leads to high drop-out rate and many children never get beyond G6. Obviously the education system as it stands leaves a lot to be desired and changes are neccesary.

I am by no means an expert on the subject of education, but I won't let that stop me from making a few common sense proposals, which I feel should improve matters considerably.

I therefore propose the following:

1) Basic assesment for school readiness should be compulsory and all children should attend grade R classes.

2) Children who do not speak the language in which the school teaches should not be admitted to such school.

3) Class numbers should be limited to less than 30 children per class.

4) Special schools should be established for those children unable to cope with the normal schooling. Keeping them to repeat G1 three times will not help the child and also disrupts teaching for the rest of the class.

5) Discipline needs urgent attention and corporal punishment should be brought back, to be administered by specially trained teachers at each school. The lack of discipline is far more harmfull than the punishment which will help restore discipline. Problem pupils expelled by the school should only be allowed back with the aproval of the School Governing Body, and not by departemental decree.

6) Instead of the department providing stationary, each school should be provided with a budget in order to provide for their own needs (things like pencils for instance which the dept. provides are of such poor quality that they only last a very short while).

7) Recruitment within the education evironment should be strictly on merit and "cadre deployment" must end. We cannot afford incompetent staff in this vital area of nation building.
If these changes are implemented, it will not immediately fix all the problems, but it should lead to a drastic improvement.

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March 03, 2020
Could a system of independent inspectors help to provide oversight and advise education authorities on specific issues at schools.
February 20, 2019
A well rounded article, and I am sure shocking to some who are unaware - which is the majority. Lack of education leads to a lack of understanding about the lack of education and unfortunately it becomes a vicious circle unless a seed of ambition is planted in the individuals affected in order for them to grow and break the mould they find themselves in.

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