Learners succeed despite challenges facing public education


 The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) salutes the matric class of 2022 for the stellar performance. These results are a collective effort of both learners and educators. Educators sacrificed their family time to teach on weekends and during school holidays, leaving the comfort of idle — midday naps, ‘lazying on the sofa’ or reading novels.

Likewise, learners have sacrificed time to relax with family and friends on weekends, remained at school after contact time for extra classes and despite the loud taverns neighbouring their homes, burned the midnight oil by studying. Especially learners who stay in townships, villages and farms; they have really conquered countless odds which stand against working class children in working class communities.

Parents and administrators also played a role in ensuring that despite systemic problems of austerity and poverty, learners receive some academic, psychosocial and socio-economic support to achieve the results they have achieved.

Our children in working class communities are faced with multiple challenges. The exploitation and abuse of workers by bosses at workplaces combine with patriarchal culture that still has a stronghold in our social relations to produce toxic adults who become monstrous parents at home. Sometimes even worse, the pauperism created by unemployment and general economic marginalisation under capitalism, creates parentally negligent parents, who have immersed themselves in alcohol from sunrise to midnight.

In our neighbourhoods, the growth in the use of drugs and an incessant consumption of alcohol presents themselves not only as distractions to our learners, but also as dangerous threats to their future, and by extension, the future of this country. Since “he who has the youth has the future” as Karl Liebknecht remarked more than a century ago, every threat to the future of our youth is a threat to the future of this country.

Beyond these problems, government and Eskom brought additional inconveniences through power failure and loadshedding. Consequently, learners had to dread the darkness of loadshedding with candles and paraffin lights.

Such conditions are not conducive for learners to excel smoothly. Hence those who pass matric, must profoundly be celebrated, for they have conquered insurmountable odds.

Failing public education

From the odds in our households and communities, working class learners in especially quintile 1 to 3 schools, are faced with additional problems.

They attend in dilapidated classrooms that often have no sufficient desks and have broken windows. In winter, learners do not quite concentrate in the first lessons, as they take place at the most coldest time of the day.

The failure to hire educators and also provide relevant equipment, has seen educators unable to implement the inclusive education policy, which has been enacted in recognition of the differing learning abilities and capacities of learners. This has steadily seen learners failing simply because curriculum differentiation is not applied at both teaching and assessment level.

Lack of equipment that impede a wide use of curriculum differentiation includes amongst others lack of internet for teaching and learning purposes, lack of teaching equipment such as computer projectors and white boards in classrooms. Learning in the overwhelming majority of public schools still takes in old ways – chalk and chalkboard. This limits teachers to teach through written texts and spoken language, with lesser visual and audio-visual demonstrations.

Understaffed schools mean that educators fail to teach, supervise and do administration efficiently, as they are most overloaded with class lessons. In other words, learners who may need a little push and special attention from an educator, they rarely get it as teachers are preoccupied with completing curriculum coverage.

The combination of all these problems have produced the real failing rate of about 50% and more, if we factor in the 40% of learners that is estimated to drop-out before reaching matric (DEB estimated in 2020 that drop-out rate could be at 48%, and generally estimates the drop-out rate in the region of 37% and 42%).

Create a one-tier education system

SAFTU notes the 98,4% achievement by independent schools, and congratulates individual learners for their efforts and excellence. That most of them have got adequate support systems does not mean we should not celebrate the learners. Afterall, they are also the future of this country and that of humanity as a whole.

But such salutation to the learners should not make us oblivious to the parities that exist in our two-tier education system. Unlike in public schools, independent schools have a lesser learner-to-educator ratio, which advantages them to perform better. It means learners have sufficient attention from their educators as educators are not overwhelmed with overload. Additionally, the infrastructure and equipment for teaching and learning is modern and conducive for effective learning.

There are other factors that puts them at an advantage such as good diet and proper healthcare because their parents are well-off. As such, learners do not encounter neurological problems related to malnutrition. Those who have neurological complications, their parents easily pay for necessary healthcare or take them to special schools that allow them to thrive academically.

Like in health, we have called for the amalgamation of the education system, and to create a well-oiled one public education system. But this should not just be an amalgamation of the two tiers for the sake of it. Government ought to reverse its austerity measures so that it can roll out a massive school infrastructure programme, buy equipment and hire security to guard it.

Moreover, it should hire more educators to take the learner-to-educator ratio from 37:1 (which is not a true representation of the classroom crowding) to 20:1, and even lesser. This will see public education performing even much better, producing higher pass rate and reducing the number of drop-outs.


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