Critical issues in primary and secondary education
The current state of our schools has a long way to go if we aspire to increase the number of centres of excellence and learning. Schools have to create new learning environments that model a spirit of inquiry, inclusiveness and interdependence with learners who represent a wide array of cultures, languages and social backgrounds.
Within this context, professionalisation of teaching and e-learning holds promise to offer teachers and learners access to a variety of learning and teaching support material that promotes the appreciation of diversity, a collective identity across the school and begins to connect schools to broader societal goals. There are still, however, learners and teachers, mostly in township and rural schools, who face various challenges. It is not ideal – and perhaps not fitting (in their context) – to offer support material and other learning tools while pre-existing conditions which stand in the way of their development are not dealt with accordingly.
In no particular order, the schools are faced with some of the following challenges and issues:
1. Challenges in teaching and learning
- Most learners continue to find both mathematics and science concepts, as well as English language, challenging. The transition from home language to English as the medium of instruction, especially in the case of second language speakers at grade 4, is one of the major contributors of literacy problems from primary schools right through secondary schools
- Teachers teach to the test. This practice impacts negatively on the learners’ conceptual understanding. The low quality passes of learners, as reflected in the 2014 Annual National Assessments (ANAs), demonstrates a lack of conceptual understanding. This also contributes to a high dropout rate at first-year university (for those who qualify). For instance, an overview of the South African higher education system, presented by the Council on Higher Education South Africa, indicates that, in 2010, there were 892,936 student enrolments in the country’s public higher institutions but only 153,741 students received their qualifications in the same year
- “There is growing divide between rich and poor schools with respect to access to e-learning facilities which is exacerbating the digital divide,” says Henre Benson of the Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Education. Most poor schools have no information and communication technology (or access thereof). This is a disadvantage because they cannot access education opportunities or participate fairly in educational growth compared with schools that have such access
2. Challenges in teach provisioning
- Teachers in primary schools are generalists and as a result there is room for development and training in subjects such as mathematics and science
- Shortage of teachers, attrition and undersupply of new teachers
- Teacher education programmes at universities tend to attract students who have chosen teaching as a last career option and hardly meet entrance requirements for other courses
- Schools do not have the capacity and/or willingness to orientate, retain, incentivise, nurture and groom newly qualified teachers so as to teach better, learn the art of teaching and stay in the profession for a long time. Mentorship of first-time teachers is not structured
These challenges perhaps indicate that there is room for development in improving the current state of education in our country. There is hope, however, when civil society takes the opportunity to complement and partner with government in laying sustainable solutions.