What is happening with South Africa’s education and labour systems?

Welcome to 2013. I can’t wait until 13 September 2013 when we will be blessed with Facebook statuses telling us it is Friday the 13th in 2013. That doesn’t freak me out though.

I was slightly perturbed by news of the National Press Club’s Newsmaker of the year for 2012 being the Rhino. I would have thought the annihilation that took place in Marikana on 16 August 2012 would have been slightly more newsworthy. I would have also assumed that the scandalous revelations of challenges in our education and labour sectors, such as Limpopogate, the deaths of 8 people who were being assessed for police posts where 1 in 350 applicants would be accepted, and the imminent school closures in the Western Cape, would have been priorities.

Before I continue allow me to say: I have nothing against the Rhino. In fact I would dye for the Rhino. Save our rhinos. Save our rhinos. Save our rhinos. Even on the bank notes we negotiated and had Madiba monopolise just the one side. I digress. The objective of this post is to critique the country’s education and labour systems and offer alternatives.

The thesis of my argument lies in perceiving the education and labour systems as inextricably linked and interdependent. If you excel in the education system you should, generally, go on to excel in the economic sector. When the economy suffers and jobs are scarce education that does not create jobs is merely an expensive academic exercise because we produce degrees whilst their holders cannot find jobs.

A lot is said about education in South Africa but the debate tends to be sensationalist, one-sided and unconstructive. We generally talk about education after we have heard a shocking media report, be it textbooks that were not delivered or a child with a 39% average being allowed to progress to the next Grade without knowing 61% of their work. We make uninformed comments and go all out to criticise without really understanding the matter. Professor Jansen is the exception to the rule. Similarly we only really care about workers when they are on strike and become an inconvenience to us. I will write to accomplish three things: firstly to highlight the successes, secondly to point out the challenges and finally to offer alternatives.

What we are getting right?

Every once in a while we get people on a high horse who matriculated in 19 voetsek claiming that education has gone to the dogs and it was better during apartheid. Let me avoid swearing and rather say this is tantamount to the solid excrement of a bull. Comrades this is a historically incorrect fact. First of all your Black African parents would tell you that subjects such as Mathematics were disbanded for the Black child and replaced with subjects such as needlework and Malema’s woodwork. I recall being in Grade 12 and how the Grade 11s who were using a curriculum that differed to ours had Mathematics homework we could not help them with because it was offer a higher level than what we had been exposed to.

We have more learners starting school than ever before. You may know an uncle or grandparent or even a president who never had the chance to pursue a formal education because he had to herd cattle. Thankfully this is now an atrocity of the past.

Education has become far less racist, patriarchal and sexist. Importantly the ANC led government has realised that it is not sufficient to depend on the Matric results to gauge the quality of basic education. The introduction of the Annual National Assessments that enable us to see just how poorly we are performing is invaluable. Furthermore evidence of minimal improvement in the outcome of these assessments is pleasing, albeit minimally. Initiatives such as the Funza Lushaka bursary scheme that offers full bursaries to people who want to teach in public schools will hopefully aid us avoid the embarrassing Annual National Assessment Maths result that revealed that our learners averaged a meagre 13%.

Last year we were shocked by the lack of delivery of textbooks in Limpopo. According to a Mail & Guardian report In 2013 Angie Motshekga has proudly announced that 98% of the textbooks were delivered before schools re-opened in inland provinces. Into enhle iyanconywa!

Fee free schools are becoming a reality. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NFSAS) is allowing us access into universities. Freedom charterists be proud!

Where we can still improve?

There remains a plethora of challenges in the education system. Some of these problems are a direct legacy of the apartheid era. Nkosi of the Mail & Guardian reported on the 24th of January that more than 50 learners from Thembelihle, an informal settlement in southwest Johannesburg are without a school three weeks into the year due to schools being full and the nearest available school being 20km away. If informal settlement means more to you than that eyesore by the freeway on your way to work you will know that there are no funds to pay for the learners transport thus trapping them into a cycle of poor education>unemployment or poorly paying job >extended stay in the meant to be temporary shacks>poor education for their children.

On Friday 25 January 2013 a friend of mine mentioned that he recently visited a rural school in Baynesfield, rural KZN, without water or electricity where learners in Grades 3-5 share a single tin roof class. Mind you the temperature went up to 40 degrees Celsius this week. Will that class produce an Actuarial scientist? Must we be content with being security guards or constables?

The structural challenges that are being tackled include an inequality in resources. Some schools have a library, laboratory and tennis courts whilst some learners are still learning under trees with attendance being determined by weather conditions.

It would be a misnomer to attribute all our challenges to Verwoerd and his Bantu education policies. When teacher unions hold meetings during school times and learners are left to their own devices this is criminal behaviour. Having changed the basic education curriculum three times since the end of apartheid has been no help. The learners and teachers are worse off for it.

What can we do to make things better?

If you read the title of this sub-heading you will notice the word: we. Writing letters to the editor is not enough. The media has a responsibility to continue exposing any challenges we are faced with. Teachers, learners and school governing bodies have to work together to ensure today’s learners have a better chance than the youth of 1976, 1986 and 2006. The school cited above where learners are stuck in a stuffy, debilitated classroom illustrates the need for communities to intervene. The school should belong to the community and not to the principal. If need be that community must build two more classes with their own funds. A core argument of Racial redress and citizenship in South Africa edited by Adam Habib and Kristina Bentley is that South Africans became depoliticised in 1994 and stopped being community participants but adopted a culture of waiting for service delivery. During the apartheid era Indian communities would actually build schools from scratch and only call in the government for accreditation purposes. Long story short if you live in triple story, drive a Hummer but the school in your community has no desks or the roof is leaking you are being unAfrican and unpatriotic.

I propose a more synchronised relationship between the basic education, higher education and labour system. Learners must complete Grade 12 and when they enter higher education they must knowingly select courses that lead to qualifying for jobs that are in demand. To quote the minister of Higher Education Blade “I love his radio and newspaper interviews” Nzimande “We are short of very critical skills that one cannot get at universities… you can only get them at FET colleges. You can’t go to university to be a plumber, electrician, welder or a boiler maker”. This is a revelation considering that learners tend to idealise going to universities and end up staying at home with their degrees or applying for police posts. In 2012/13 the country is spending R207.3 billion on education. I propose a thorough commission of enquiry to find out where this money goes. Is the expenditure efficient? Why do some schools not have qualified Maths or Science teachers?

One of the miners who died in Marikana was in his early 20s. The education and labour system failed him. Amongst the people who perished in Harry Gwala stadium, where 150 000 applicants applied for 90 traffic officer posts, was a University of Zululand Bachelor of Arts graduand. Dr Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. Let this be a lived reality for South Africa’s youth who must get a proper education.


She deserves the best education possible.


Will their children still be fighting the same war?

**To assist raise funds or to give your time to renovate the school mentioned above please contact info@business-world.co.za or email me @ shuffle.mncwabe@gmail.com and I will enquire about how you can contribute.

Have a wonderful 2013.


7 thoughts on “What is happening with South Africa’s education and labour systems?

  1. I still blame the government for the quality of schools differing so much. Yes, We also have a responsibility huge one- but there is only so much we can do with the little we have as compared to the govt with the millions they have. I come from a very small village near Greytown and I can tell you that community has done more for the local schools then the govt has done in 90 years. Its appalling!! The government still needs to be held more acountable then anyone else. The pass rate is also shocking- to think that a learner needs a mere 30% to pass a subject is very worrying. What kind of quality education is that? Can’t we learn something from our neighbour Zimbabwe? I speak for myself when I say I’m not happy with the quality of education in our country. The negatives really outshine the positives.

  2. Just yesterday I was having a discussion with CUT students on the topic. Its much easier for most of us to point fingers, while we are doing nothing to change the situation in our own communities. 80% of the students I have seen this month for academic advising have poor results & show no concern or worry about it,all they want is to get into university they don’t wanna hear anything about FET’s

  3. Phuck! This is great! Can’t we have such conversations as young South Africans. Sdu, put some naked women in your post next time so that more people can deviate to this blog. Can we build two classrooms for a school somewhere in the remote rural areas, before the end of this year?

  4. @Phephelani I think we can. Identify a school and let us know. I agree with you Londi government cannot treat children from different areas of residence differently indefinitely. There will always be learners content with just passing. If the system says the pass mark is 40% or 50% or 30% this kind of learner will aim for this mark. @Philile the students you are seeing are pushed through the system. Some have been condoned three times along the way…

  5. This 30% is destroying us, our nation, our economy!..uzofumana ezindaweni zaseMakhaya abafundi bengenandaba tu! Bethetha into ka 30% qha, bengayqondi uba asoze baya ndawo nale 30%…I still blame the government, for me it seems like abakhathalelanga ingomso leli lizwe. Akukho apho siya khona xa kusenabafundi abangayi eskolweni ngenxa yemvula, inswelo yeemali kubazali..MASISUKUME SAKHE!

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