Education system 'a scandal'

17 January 2011 - 01:11 By MICHELLE SOLOMON

A leading academic has ripped into the country's education system saying it is failing South Africa's youth.

Speaking at the graduation ceremony for the Eastern Cape Student Sponsorship Programme at Selborne College in East London, Rhodes University vice-chancellor Dr Saleem Badat called the state of education in the country a "tragedy".

"It is an absolute scandal that the South African school system functions the way it does in 2010, 16 years after the start of democracy in our country," Badat said.

"As citizens we must not tolerate this any longer," he added, to applause from the small audience of students, parents and teachers.

Badat said thousands of South African children would never reach their potential because of the "appalling" state of education - only a quarter of pupils that begin Grade 1 complete Grade 12 and make it to university - this despite the country spending R130-billion a year on education.

"Our schooling system does not realise the talents of our youth in the way that other countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania do. These countries are much poorer than [South Africa]," Badat said. "That's why I say this is a scandal."

He added the figures were even worse in "historically black" and previously disadvantages schools, which make up 80% of the country's 7000 secondary schools. Despite this large number, Badat said these schools produce only 20% of students who qualify for university.

Badat made an example of Grahamstown, saying that of the seven historically disadvantaged schools in that town, only the former Model C schools have up to 100% of their pupils going to university.

"We have to ask ourselves, what is going on in those schools," said Badat.

The vice-chancellor further emphasised the impact that inequity of opportunity and income has across the schooling spectrum. "The consequences [of this inequity] are evident in school performance and achievement," Badat said.

Adding that while apartheid's legacy in education is "pervasive and pernicious", Badat said South Africans cannot "forever hold apartheid alone culpable".

"If we are not to be its victims forever, we have to take the initiative," he said.

"We continue to be plagued by stubborn and persistent realities of constitutionally enshrined educational imperatives and goals. Unless, and until, we [take the initiative] we will continue to deny millions of South Africans an education that develops their capabilities and affirms and advances their human and social rights," Badat warned.

Badat congratulated SSP students for passing despite the challenges of the South African schooling system. "It's a tremendous achievement. I recognise that," he said, "but the schooling system has already failed one generation. I fear we are about to fail another." - Daily Dispatch