Interview: Jonathan Jansen
How can proper resource management be ensured?
JONATHAN JANSEN: The government has clearly identified education as a top priority, as it accounts for 20% of public expenditures for 2014/15. This significant allocation of public resources is a declaration of the current administration’s commitment to education. However, if resources are not properly managed, they will bear little fruit. In order to maximise the effectiveness of investments, we must foster strong ethical and managerial capacities at the provincial level where the budget is actually deployed. When it comes to the distribution of social goods in general, and education in particular, corruption is endemic in most provinces. Look no further than the scandal surrounding failed government oversight of textbook delivery in Limpopo.
Ensuring that schools have at least the minimum standard of infrastructure and access to basic materials will go a long way towards remedying this. Service delivery at the municipal level also needs to be improved. To this end, the recent appointment of Pravin Gordhan as Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs is encouraging to see. The next step will be to explore technology and leverage broadband to improve education through IT-assisted learning.
What factors are behind South Africa’s poor performance in maths and science education?
JANSEN: South Africa placed last out of 148 countries in maths and science education according to a 2014 World Economic Forum report. Improvement is therefore key if South Africa is to produce a capable younger generation with the skills our society needs to transition to a knowledge-based economy. Going forward, science and technology will drive our developmental needs and create sustainable competitiveness.
To improve in this arena, it begins at the teacher level. Raising the competence level of maths and science instructors is our number one priority and will require testing the knowledge of in-service educators. We not only need competent teachers, but also inspirational ones that can have a defining impact on students from a young age. Unfortunately, the powerful teachers’ union continues to stand opposed to standards testing and monitoring. Unless we see greater volition from high-performing teachers to weed out those who are failing to deliver, we will find ourselves in a stalemate.
To what extent are the authorities focused on improving the quality of education?
JANSEN: The state must be accountable for improving the quality of education in the country. School access has improved markedly since 1994 to the point where we have near-universal enrolment up to age 16; however, quality remains a problem. Higher quality standards will help us to boost the number of further education and training (FET) graduates with the social, language and ethical competencies needed to succeed in the modern workplace. As of now, the passing rate is embarrassing low, sending the wrong message to students. It is an absolute disgrace to be able to pass with marks of only 30-40%. Furthermore, it does nothing to improve upon skills mismatch, as young people will remain ill equipped to enter the labour market.
In this sense, there is room for the private sector to play a role as a provider of training for middle- and lower-skilled vocational tracks. Indeed, the government is working to reach its goal of 4m students enrolled in vocational and FET colleges and an additional 1.5m students in universities by 2030. This turnaround strategy seeks to repair the historically poor perception of these institutions as glorified high schools.
Business has traditionally criticised FETs for failing to respond to industry needs. Private sector investment, which is demand-driven by nature, will create space for industries like the construction sector to lobby schools to prepare students with the necessary skills for specific employment growth areas. Capacity expansion will be key to reaching these government enrolment targets by 2030. The primary challenge will be avoiding any compromise of quality in the process.
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