The state of education

The state of education

A critical inquiry by Ngoako Selamolela into the past, present and future of the South African education system

The process of transforming the education system is not independent of the broader struggles of our people; those of the creation of a classless society to emerge from the elimination of the exploitation of all people by others. Any attempt to engage with the process, without an attempt to analyse the DNA inherited from the system of apartheid capitalism, is mere shadow boxing and a sure recipe for disaster.

The South African education system is a product of a prolonged history of oppression which was carefully crafted on the basis of class, race and gender. It is therefore not far-fetched to submit that the contemporary socio-economic difficulties that affect our country owe their existence to our inherited legacy.

Our education system is a reflection of the capitalist nature of our society and neo-liberalism, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Our education system, therefore, derives its being from the ugly past of colonialism and is moulded into its current form by the unpleasant hegemony of neo-liberalism.

The education system is, in the main, responsive to an economic system that prioritises profit before the greater good of society.

Acquisition of knowledge, its production and reproduction, has also been greatly compromised by the unipolar character of the world. Knowledge from some countries has not been transmitted to other countries given their political attitude to the imperialist agenda.

We have lost, for instance, an opportunity to have our medical students learn from Cubans. The proposal, therefore, is that the state must subscribe to all research journals available to the country on behalf of all citizens.

The institution of learning has been used, in the main, to spread the propaganda of free market capitalism, serving the interests of capital but, importantly, also working for the enlightenment of the same people.

On a daily basis, students and workers involved in education are fighting for the transformation of the education system. Whether or not this daily struggle contributes to the broader objective of creation of an education system that serves the interests of the working class is a critical question for all revolutionary forces.

The history of our education system, as we see it today, is clearly captured in the ANC strategy and tactics adopted at the first consultative conference held in Morogoro, Tanzania in 1969 This notes: “When the gun is not in use, legal and administrative terror, fear, social and economic pressures, complacency and confusion generated by propaganda and education are the devices brought into play in an attempt to harness people’s opposition.”

Our education system did not emerge outside the general roles of education in a capitalist society. Classical Marxists have written about the task of schools in a capitalist society, which are “first to inspire the coming generation of workers with devotion and respect for the capitalist regime.

Secondly it creates from the young of the ruling class cultured controllers of the working population. Thirdly, it assists capitalist production in the application of science and techniques, thus increasing capitalist profits (N Bukharin and Probrazhensky, 1920).”

Most important is the acknowledgement that our education system was crafted to serve the interests of white capital in general and in particular mining, agriculture and their allied secondary industries. The growth of finance capital in the country has required the adaptation of education to serve its interests.

This has led to the creation of the credit market for higher education to serve the very interests of finance capital, so as to increase the technical capacity needed by this form of capital.

The rise of the ICT industry not only necessitated the rapid use of technology in the education system, but also increased access through online qualifications and further increased acts of criminality by those who offer the qualifications.

The challenge is, therefore, to ensure that access to the telecommunications network is used to enhance learning, teaching and research, while at the same time not increasing criminal acts among those who might want to seize the day for their selfish ends.

Access and success
University and college gates are still largely open to the offspring of the middle class and those from the working class that obtain bursaries and loans from the government and the private sector.

This shameful reality is largely sustained through reactionary admission policies and exorbitant tuition fees. Without underrating the goals of the democratic government in increasing the numbers of those who access institutions through financial aid, many of our people, particularly the black rural masses, are still failing to access educational institutions and facilities.

One of the the immediate tasks of the revolutionary student movement is to strip education of its price tag; to squeeze out the bourgeois content governed by the senseless logic of free-market ideology. The successful conclusion of this task must result in the building of peoples’ education for peoples’ power.

This should be the reaffirmation that education is produced by the collective will and experience of all.

At the centre of the struggle for access to education should also be the fight against the expropriation of knowledge, which is, essentially a product of society, for the benefit of the few. Critical analysis must, therefore, focus on the lack of emphasis on the knowledge produced at the factory floor – as if workers produce no new knowledge because it might not find its way into the mainstream academic centres, given established capital’s hold over distribution channels and almost the entire value chain.

The structure of the system excludes students on financial grounds. Learning and teaching is not just about investing in registration fees. This view works against the interest of the country as a whole.

The contribution that could have been made to humanity by those whose registration fees were paid by government grants has been stifled by the continuous failure to appreciate that education is directly linked to survival, as well as a twist in material conditions to favour the downtrodden masses of our people as part of manoeuvres for the advancement of the struggle against imperialism and the global system of capitalism.

Historically white institutions have bogged down access in red tape, deny recognition to the qualifications of students from working-class backgrounds and less well resourced schools access to particular qualifications.

Academic boards regulating the access of graduates have not only been very useful to the programme, but have also participated by crafting regulatory measures that limit the access of those with certain qualifications.

The preservation of particular qualifications for students from particular classes and racial background has crippled the capacity of the country to tap into its human resources for the greater good of the nation.

The situation as it relates to access and success are as follows:
• There is a shortage of qualified and properly grounded academic staff that can enable students to grasp the subject content quickly, from black and disadvantaged institutions.

• There is a lack of properly structured academic support to assist students to improve their academic performance.

• There is a lack of suitable accommodation, making it difficult for students to study on their own and preventing the exchange of knowledge and ideas in formerly black institutions.

• Formerly white institutions use the points system as a barrier to access in the name of safeguarding quality of education.

• There is a lack of proper articulation in the education system.

• There is a lack of opportunities for workplace training, where that is a requirement for successful completion.

• Language is a bar to understanding foreign academic material, institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

Sectoral education and training authorities (Setas) have not had enough time to make a meaningful contribution to our transformation agenda. In the main, they have been committed to the creation of wealth for a few business people without having much impact on the lives of the poorest of the poor.

Most Setas have not met the required standards, leaving our college sector in crisis. Negligence on the part of the boards and administrative staff, as well as corrupt practices have engulfed the Setas and made the system vulnerable to abuse.

The college sector is still structured to protect the interests of white monopoly capital. Colleges have become a reliable channel to supply cheap labour to industry.

The geography of apartheid finds vivid expression in this sector and has largely influenced the distribution of resources. Supposedly free education in public colleges has largely been a fallacy.

There have been major strides in the introduction of the FET bursaries, administered by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). However, the under-resourcing of colleges has worked against the delivery of such services.

The college sector in the country is beset with the following problems:
• Unregistered and unaccredited private colleges that do not adequately train students or deliver a credible qualification;

• Very weak public college sector;

• Power struggles over who should regulate the activities of colleges specially designed to feed certain departments of government with skilled and capable staff

• The continuation of norms, standards and services provided for in the repealed Manpower Act and non-compliance with the Skills Development Act;

• Very loose institutional management systems;

• Two separate curricula, one of which requires students to study towards the equivalent of matric after three years even when they have successfully completed matric;

• The lack of confidence in the national certificate – vocational (NCV) curricula among students and broad sections of South African society; and

• The inability of a many colleges to raise revenue outside government funding.

It has become more fashionable since the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War 2 to attempt to ensure to knowledge production is not used to support behaviour such as genocide. Given the history of apartheid capitalism, progressive forces have, in the main, opposed attempts to reduce the freedom of institutions to determine course content and teaching methods.

However, it is worth debating whether a better balance should be found that requires institutions to align their qualifications with the interests of the society.

We must ensure that institutions do not became a law unto themselves wand take care that we do not create a network for spread of patronage and use of such institutions for further advance of neo-liberalism by corrupt state officials and our class enemy.

The challenge presented by the current strict adherence to the idea of the autonomy of institutions and academic freedom is the inability of the government of the people to impose a transformative agenda in the name and interests of the people of South Africa.

It is important that the education is not constantly used in the interests of the ruling class when the vast majority of working people have entrusted our movement with the responsibility of safeguarding their interests.

The workplace as a learning institution
Workers have not reaped the full benefits of having their skills graded from time to time and allow them to increase the benefit from the sweat of their labour. The proposal is a national database should be established to capture the skills possessed by the workers and that their skills should be audited from time to time.

This would allow workers to register for the advancement of their skills at institutions. In the long run, the formalisation of workers education through the national qualification framework would go a long way in assisting the struggle against capitalist hegemony.

The future of South African education is not certain given the exaggerated role of institutional autonomy and academic freedom; the lack of access to institutions; and the institutions’ lack of resources.

The process of building an education system based on the will of the people will not be an easy one, but it deserves the investment of energy and expertise from the revolutionary movement.

The intention should remain to create people’s education for people’s power, and to ensure that institutions of learning are not merely ivory towers servicing a group that is isolated from broader society.

Institutional governance should be drastically transformed, with equitable representation being one of the most important ingredients of such a process. We must resist the idea that transformation means the replacement of white skins with black ones, without paying any attention ideological make-up of the individuals employed to implement the transformation agenda.

There is wisdom in the words of Frederich Engels at the funeral of Karl Marx that “just as Darwin discovered laws of development or organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing … before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion; that therefore.

The production of immediate material means and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch, form the foundation upon which the state institutions, legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion of the people concerned have been evolved …”

Education must attempt to meet first and foremost the immediate challenges of human survival, without neglecting its duty to alter the status quo. The future education system must be single, co-ordinated, universal and free of monetary constrains. It must in the main serve the interests of the working class as the main motive force of our revolution.

Ngoako Selamolela is Sasco president.

Quick facts on the state of Education system
• 12-year olds in South Africa perform three times less than 11-year olds in Russia when it comes to reading and 16-year olds in South Africa perform three times less than 14-year olds in Cyprus when it comes to mathematics.

Nevertheless, white learners perform in line with the international average in both science and mathematics, which is twice the score of African learners.
The pass rate in black schools is an average of 44% whereas in white schools it is 97%.

Classroom sizes in white schools are 24 learners, in African schools they are 32, but in Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga the sizes are between 40 and 50 learners.

In 1999, approximately 1.3 million learners entered the system in Grade 1. Twelve years later in 2010, only 27,6% passed their matric exam. Only 9,6% obtained a university entrance grade. Less than 1% of these school leavers earned distinctions in mathematics.

70% of matriculation passes are accounted for by 11% of the schools which are historically White, Indian and Coloured

About 1 million young people exit the schooling system annually, of whom 65 percent exit without achieving a Grade 12 certificate. Half of those who exit the schooling system do so after Grade 11, either because they do not enrol in Grade 12 or they fail Grade 12.

However, only a small number of those who leave the schooling system enrol in FET colleges or have access to any post-school training. In 2011 only 115 000 enrolled in general vocational programmes in FET colleges.

On average, 400 000 young people do not proceed with their studies after writing matriculation exams every year.

African graduates as a percentage of all graduates from universities and technikons decreased from 58 percent in 2000 to 53 percent in 2008.