Inept education department does not stop excelling matriculants, but still fails the youth

AfriForum congratulates all matriculants who successfully completed their school careers in 2021 and thanks the teaching staff who made this possible, despite extremely challenging circumstances. It is to be expected that the COVID-19 pandemic would have had an impact on the pass rate, but apart from that, AfriForum is of the opinion that the Department of Basic Education is still letting the youth of South Africa down.

According to Alana Bailey, AfriForum’s Head of Cultural Affairs, AfriForum has for more than a decade been comparing the number of learners enrolled in Grade 1 in a year, with the number completing their school careers at the end of twelve years. The statistics can be structured in many ways, for example with or without the inclusion of private or independent school matriculants, or those who repeated the year. The bottom line, however, is that about a third or more of the learners disappear from the system before they pass matric. Due to the department’s poor handling of the pandemic, concerns were already expressed in this regard in 2021 about the approximately 200 000 learners who did not return to school last year.

“In addition to this, once again thousands of learners who do return, have not been placed in schools yet, or have to date not received the necessary learning material. The pandemic has become a useful excuse for the lack of service delivery to communities by ensuring that adequate schools are built and functionally operated,” Bailey adds.

In July 2019, for example, the High Court in Pietermaritzburg ruled in favour of the Nkungumathe community, assisted by AfriForum, ordering the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education to build a school for them, as had been undertaken more than a decade before. To date, however, construction has not commenced, with budgetary challenges due to COVID-19 as an excuse. When a matric class will one day be able to complete their school careers there, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, learners have to walk kilometres to attend overcrowded schools, often facing snakes and rivers in flood, while sharing one textbook amongst up to ten learners. This is just one example of the state’s failure that directly contributes to the country’s record-high youth unemployment rate. The adjustment of pass requirements and marks does not solve the situation, it rather aggravates it, because matriculants become less employable as a result of these adjustments.

Bailey emphasizes that solutions can be found in the responsible and efficient use of the country’s enormous education budget, an increased offer of mother-language education, strict action against ideologically-driven polarizing statements and actions (such as that of Gauteng’s MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi), effective curriculum options, preventing teacher unions’ interference that paralyzes schools by means of labour action, creating more training opportunities for teachers, as well as addressing a lack of discipline among learners and teaching staff. AfriForum remains committed to the protection of learners’ rights in these areas.

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