How to fix South Africa’s education

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 | education, ICT in Africa

After the 2012 matric results were announced last week, the media – particularly the social media – were abuzz with comments from education authorities celebrating the results and defending the not-so-good aspects, and with criticisms from those who believe that education is failing the country.

A though provoking article written by Professor Mary Metcalf appeared in The Sunday Independent of 6 January 2013, highlighting the things that are amiss in our education system but giving clear suggestions of what can be done to improve matters.  Her recommendations are succinctly summarized by a paragraph towards the end of the article:

The five challenges are clear: improve success from primary school; reduce the dropout rate in Grades 10 to 12; increase the proportion of pupils who are passing at higher levels; focus on the provinces which have inherited the greatest portion of the apartheid devastation, and where the largest numbers of the poorest children live; and reduce the huge inequalities that are pervasive across the system.

This is a tall order!  And it will require us to pull out all the stops to overcome these challenges.

While addressing these issues, don’t overlook the possible contribution of technology.  How can technology help?   In some way, it can address each of the five challenges:

Improve success from primary school: Many teachers are already using technology in their classrooms to develop and improve literacy and numeracy skills of learners from Grade 1 up till Grade 12.

Reduce the dropout rate in Grades 10 to 12: After introducing technology, many schools have reported that it serves as a way of regaining and retaining interest in learning among learners who might have given up on their education.

Increase the proportion of pupils who are passing at higher levels: Technology can help to fill the gap where skilled teachers are not available, or where big learner numbers make it impossible for teachers to provide individual guidance.

Focus on the provinces which have inherited the greatest portion of the apartheid devastation, and where the largest numbers of the poorest children live: An injection of technology in these provinces, alongside other interventions, will accelerate the rate of improvement in the qualityof education.

Reduce the huge inequalities that are pervasive across the system: Technology has proved to be a great equalizer.

Who is responsible to address these challenges?  Professor Metcalf says that the state has a responsibility:

The Department of Basic Education has diagnosed these and other challenges, and has a clear and credible plan to address them in its Action Plan to 2014. The National Development Plan reinforces this. Achieving these goals requires strong educational institutions.

Both the Action Plan to 2014 (see Chapter 7: The Importance of e-Education) and the National Development Plan include the use of technology as important elements of a strategy to improve education.  But will the State be able to pull this off on its own?  The article concludes by appealing to all of us to make a play a part:

The first line of responsibility is with the department and its political and executive leadership. But it is also through citizens actively supporting teachers and schools, and working in partnership with provincial and national leaders, that implementation can succeed, and we can progressively make access to a quality public education for all a reality. To give this support is our individual and collective responsibility as parents and citizens, as is our parallel responsibility to hold officials accountable, to ensure fairness and that promises are kept.

The question now is: how can the private sector – particularly technology companies – work along with the national and provincial education departments to fix South Africa’s education?

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