This is part 2 of Listie Anne Kamm’s commentary on education in South Africa. Listie Anne Kamm is one of our first students in the Kurland Learning Center. A graduate with honors from Stellenbosh University, she is deeply concerned with the political, education and social future of her country. Like her fellow South Africans, she prays for a better healthier country for her children to grow up in.
The problem with education in South Africa does not begin in high school. It begins well before a student enters his high school years. This problem impacts not only high school students, but primary school students who cannot read, write or add. It then infests first year university students who do not have a clue as to how to write a paper. I will never forget my tenth grade year at Wittedrift High School, which is the best school in my area and happens to be a predominantly white school. I came from a township school, where I was one of the top students in the entire school. My first week at WHS was probably the worst in my entire school career. I went from being the top student at The Crags Primary to one that had to struggle to get and maintain good grades. I had no clue what the word “algebra” meant. I had never heard of a periodic table. I’d never felt dumber in my whole life. I was failed abysmally by my teachers and government. As if that was not enough, the department of education dumbed the system down even more when the government implemented Outcomes-Based Education (OBE). In my opinion, OBE is just a dumbed-down egalitarian scheme that stifles individual potential for excellence and achievement by holding the entire class to the level of learning attainable by every child. This sytem of education discourages competition and according to the Phyllis Schlafly report, fast learners are not allowed to progress, but are given busy work called “horizontal enrichment”or told to do “peer tutoring” to help the slower kids , who are recycled through the material until the pre-determined behaviour is exhibited. Basically, a student’s current performance is compared to their own prior performance rather than their performance relative to their peers. So, in a nutshell, it is impossible for a student to fail.
Matriculants today who don’t even achieve 50% in the Senior Certificate (matric) results are being told that they can proceed, and not only that, but that they are entitled to a higher education. What message are we sending our youth? That black and Coloured students are somehow less capable and therefore need these pathetic results to access higher education?
Who is responsible for this culture of mediocrity that we are steadily moving towards? We need to ask ourselves what role we are playing as broader society in ensuring that our education improves. As a society we need to model the behaviours that we want from our learners. That means we need to be models of excellence. We need to inspire our young people. We need to demystify qualitative disciplines such that they raise their aspirations. There are too many kids these days that when you ask them what they want to become, they say dancers, singers, rappers, etc. What happened to aspiring to become doctors, teachers, journalists, presidents? I know too many kids who go to school with no concept of what they can get out of it. These kids go to school because they have to. They go there because there they derive some meaning, whatever it may be, for their otherwise uninspired lives. Thus, we must take on the challenge of being role models. They may not be our kid, but they will become our nemesis should their options remain limited. Our leaders will continue failing dismally at it. Steadily, but surely we march towards mediocrity. We have a choice to make, to be mediocre or extraordinary. What we do with our young people will determine the course we take. We need to teach our youth that they need to try to achieve more than what is expected of them and that good enough is not good enough anymore. Just “okay” is not okay anymore.