Sunday, 30 December 2007

South Africa Faces Education Crisis

South Africa is facing an in education crisis. Following the matric results that failed to impress, one Sunday paper termed this a teacher crisis. The poor results came primarily from the public sector schools. While tertiary education remains in good shape, the school system is facing huge challenges.

It is not education funding that is at fault. The huge budget dedicated to education should be enough. It is the funding that actually reaches the schools that constitutes the main problem.

Government funded primary and high school education is split between schools that can raise money through school fees set by the school’s governing body, and those that cannot. Government funding for schools is limited to paying for only a core number of teachers. Additional but essential teachers are employed directly by the governing body from fees collected. Not all schools can afford this. Many have a majority of parents that cannot or will not pay. Maintenance of school facilities is not covered by departmental funds. Librarians, sports coaches, computer teachers are regarded as extras.

With education funding at about R50 billion per annum, why is there this crisis in providing resources for schools?

Government departments have become a source of gravy. Directors are appointed with salaries to match and thousands of administrative jobs are created. A huge bureaucracy has emerged to run the educational system. Teachers have been burdened with huge volumes of administrative tasks to do. The department has to employ vast numbers of people to manage the output of these administrative tasks!

My guess is that less than half of the funds allocated to school education actually reach the schools. The bulk is used to fund the oversized education department. This is an issue which probably affects many other government departments.

Government departments should use 80% of their resources to provide services “on the ground”. In the case of education, that 80% should be at the schools. Teachers should not be burdened with cumbersome administrative tasks and reporting processes. The school itself should provide the necessary checks and balances to ensure quality education.

The current situation is that teachers are leaving the profession in droves because of poor pay and even worse working conditions. Schools with facilities such as libraries and swimming pools are unable to afford a librarian or a swimming teacher.

Part of the solution is to provide the schools with sufficient funds to function properly. Remove the admin burden from the teachers. Educators should be left to educate. The bureaucracy is there to facilitate the efficient running of the education system. It should be lean and efficient, not a burden to the educators.

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