The Department of Basic Education has launched several initiatives in recent years to drive educational improvement – some addressing teacher development and some strengthening other aspects of schooling.
The democratic government has set on a new path and implemented the principles of social justice, inclusiveness, redress, access and equity. This has created hope that eventually the majority of the impoverished communities of South Africa would be emancipated from the bondage of poverty caused by the Apartheid education and colonialism.
The first task was abolishing Bantu Education and replacing it with a curriculum consistent with the spirit of a democratic country. Schools which were used during apartheid to sort out people economically as inferior or superior are now being transformed into institutions where knowledge is generated by all learners irrespective of socio-economic classes or race. This environment is created by the National Curriculum Statement now refined into the National Curriculum Policy Statements (CAPS) in which teachers are considered facilitators of knowledge brought to the classroom by learners.
This facilitation methodology is the best teaching approach that embodies a dialogue between the teacher and the learner because both of them have varying experiences that they need to share. The teacher as the chairperson of the classroom discourse should create the atmosphere that is necessary for the production of a truly educated South African citizenry.
The social conditions of the African learners are an obstacle in their educational development. Parents of a typical African child are illiterate and poor and are either employed as domestic workers or gardeners or are migrant workers in the mining and industrial world of South Africa.
Most of the learners are without the immediate parents and are living with their grandparents and consequently learners are not well taken care of at home and end up engaging in social ills which include among others absenteeism, drug abuse, sexual abuse and teenage pregnancy and other forms of violence. The absence of parents in the education lives of learners is a specter of apartheid that continues to hound them.
In addition to social inequality, language of teaching and learning is a serious issue within the South African system. Most of the learners are taught in English which is the language of teaching and learning required by the curriculum and it is not their mother tongue. It is the language of teaching and learning that restricts the acquisition of higher order thinking skills such as critical thinking and problem solving. The issue of language is a symptom of Bantu education that continues to haunt the democratic government of South Africa.
The DBE developed programmes to encourage social cohesion, inclusivity and promotion of indigenous knowledge system which includes the development of African languages.
The department has also put in place other programmes that include the introduction of the feeding scheme where African learners from the impoverished communities are given food in order to enable them to concentrate in the classroom. The no-fee schools are also a feature of the democratic government to encourage the children of the poor to attend schools.
The provision of textbooks to all learners is considered to be a hall mark of the democratic government in which each learner has to be given a textbook. This is contrary to past where impoverished African communities were forced to buy textbooks.
The writing of textbooks is done by teachers and subject specialists and the previously marginalized are included in the textbooks development process. The contribution of Africans has enhanced the quality of textbooks produced. This was an opportunity given to few professionals from one dominant race and cannot be considered acceptable.
The establishment of Dinaledi schools to promote access to high status subjects such as Physical Sciences and Mathematics in the African communities is a great step forwards towards addressing the imbalances created by the Bantu Education system.
The schools under trees have been eliminated by the democratic government where it was acceptable for African learners to attend schools in these despicable conditions. In addition, double sessions classes were eradicated and new schools were established because double sessions classes were an unpalatable symptom of apartheid education.
The democratic government has continued to maintain the standard and quality of national question papers. These papers were benchmarked in 2002, 2007 and 2011 with Scottish qualification Authority, Cambridge International Examinations, Board of Studies New South Wales and Higher Education South Africa.
As a result African learners are beginning to perform well and have made a break through into the top 20 performance in the Grade 12 results. In 2012 an African learner from Limpopo became the best learner in South Africa and this is a watershed in the history of South African education system.
The democratic government has focused its attention on providing quality education to girl learners who were previous marginalized. Barriers that have been preventing these learners from completing their schooling have been outlawed by the new government. Most of the girl learners have enrolled for Mathematics and Sciences and their performance has improved over the years and they are now comparable and even better in some instances than male learners in these scarce subjects. In 2012 the best African learner who obtained 100% in Mathematics, 100% in Physical Sciences and 100% in Accounting is a girl learner and this achievement should be attributed to a suitable education environment that the DBE has provided to the South African communities.
There are challenges that the South African system is experiencing which include the multiple failure rates, dropout rate and teenage pregnancy. These issues are addressed by the National Curriculum Statement and Action Plan to 2014 towards the realization of schooling 2025. It was realized that one of the factors that contribute to multiple failure and dropout rates is lack of foundational skills such as literacy and numeracy in primary schools. This is why the DBE introduced the Annual National Assessment as an instrument designed to diagnose the intellectual deficiencies of learners at an earlier age in order to make earlier intervention to capacitate them with core skills which are essential in ensuring that they remain within the schooling system until they achieve the exit level certificate.
The DBE has realized that it is not only physical resources that drive the quality of teaching and learning but the human resources in each and every classroom and this is the reason for the success of some of the African countries with limited resources. Teacher development centres have been revived to ensure that they become resource hubs for capacitating teachers on a continuous basis. Teachers and subject advisors are trained on aspects of the curriculum and assessment and it is hoped this protracted programme of supporting teachers will bear fruits.