Bokamoso | Opportunity doesn’t start with a Job, but with an Education

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Click here to watch this week’s Bokamoso video. 

I have now completed two weeks of my Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity Tour, and I have engaged with many South Africans about these three values of the DA, and the type of future we will build around them.

Today I want to focus on “Opportunity”.

The DA’s vision for South Africa is a future where opportunities to get ahead in life are available to everyone, regardless of background, race, language or income.

Because this is so dependent on employment, much of our focus will be on growing the economy and assisting businesses to enable the creation of millions of jobs.

But the fight against unemployment doesn’t begin and end here. What good would five million new jobs be if we can’t fill them because the required skills are simply not available?

For decades, millions of children in South Africa have been failed by the state through inferior education.

First this was done by the brutal apartheid government. This was a deliberate and systemic miseducation of black children, the effects of which are felt generations down the line. When we speak of economic redress, we don’t only refer to job opportunities and business ownership – we also mean ensuring that black South Africans are employable and competitive through quality education.

More recently, this failure has been inflicted on our children by an inept and uncaring ANC government. Of all the government’s shortcomings, it is its inability to offer children a real fighting chance through education that will go down as their biggest failure.

It is now widely accepted that the standard of South Africa’s education is languishing amongst the very worst in the world.

Turning the catastrophe that is our education around won’t happen overnight. But there are a number of steps we could take right away that will make a huge impact. History has proven that the ANC has neither the vision nor the political will to implement any of these changes, but it will be one of the first things a DA-led national government will tackle.

While much of the focus should and will be on preparing high school learners for tertiary education and the job market, the task must begin with the foundation phase.

Children in Grades 1 to 3 must learn to read, after which they must read to learn. In many, schools, teachers are failing the first half of that statement, leaving children lost and with no hope for the rest of their school years.

If a foundation phase teacher cannot teach a child to read, they have failed at their core task and should not be educating young children. In the DA-run Western Cape, there is a massive focus on reading in the first three years. This includes ensuring that all children have sufficient access to books. And if this can’t be a school library, then a well-stocked reading corner will do. But they must have the opportunity to read.

Another imperative is that reading fluency must become a promotion requirement from Grade 1 to Grade 2. Children that are advanced to Grade 2 without the ability to read can never fully recover their disadvantage, and often end up keeping the other children back.

On the topic of teachers – the only criteria for their appointment should be merit, and not whether the candidate is affiliated to a union. The influence that the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) wields over the appointment of teachers borders on cartel-like behaviour and is one of the single biggest threats to quality education.

Then, it should be non-negotiable that all teachers pass competency tests before they start teaching, and then regularly thereafter. It is terrifying that many teachers across South Africa cannot even pass the tests they set themselves.

In the Western Cape, the provincial education department sets competency tests for school principals, but SADTU has prevented this from being applied to teachers too. The union is so focused on running its job-for-pals scheme and shielding incompetent teachers from scrutiny, that they are directly responsible for failing millions of children every year.

Under a DA-led government, SADTU would be put on a very short leash, so that teachers can do what it takes to educate our children.

With the building blocks in place in the lower grades, we must then turn our attention to our high schools, and how they prepare young adults to either study further, or enter the job market with skills and confidence.

Right now, we place far too much emphasis on streaming all children towards the goal of university entrance. This pure academic focus ignores the fact that the majority of our children won’t go on to university.

Under a DA government, a growing economy will see businesses of all shapes and sizes start up and succeed, creating a wide array of jobs. These jobs will need to be filled by skilled candidates – young adults who have the aptitude and interest in all fields of employment.

We need to ensure that our technical schools offer excellence. If you look at the list of “critical skills”, this includes plumbers, mechanics, fitter & turners and a host of other jobs catered for by technical schools. The DA-governed Western Cape has more of these technical schools than any other province.

But we should also look beyond academic and technical schools. In the Western Cape, there are many “Schools of Skill” – facilities that prepare children for careers such as chefs, carpenters and hairdressers. The stigma that is sometimes still attached to these schools must be broken down, as most of these children are able to hit the ground running when entering the job market.

And finally, if we are to offer children the option of leaving school at the end of Grade 9, this “early exit certificate” must mean something – both to the child and to a potential employer. It cannot simply be, as is often currently the case, a convenient way of culling struggling children from the school system before they become part of the damning “drop-out rate” statistic (i.e. children who enter Grade 10, but don’t finish Grade 12).

To demonstrate this point, consider that the average reading level of a Grade 9 child in one of our Quintile 1 schools is on par with Grade 4. Many children are dropping out from school like this and are left to fend for themselves in an increasingly competitive world. This is unacceptable.

This is 2015. There is no reason for any of our schools – regardless of the area and socio-economic condition – to be sub-standard.

If we want our children to have a chance in life, we need to make sure that the aim is for them to become globally competitive citizens. This is the “Opportunity” we speak of when we talk about our values of Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity.

The foundation is accountability. Teachers must be held accountable for outcomes, principals must be held accountable for their schools and government must be held accountable for the level of education that is offered on their watch.

Under a DA government, that is exactly what you’ll get.

Mmusi Maimane
DA Leader

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