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    THE STATE OF OUR EDUCATION: Performance versus Relevance

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    I recently posted a question to a group of school principals, “Is your school just an academically performing school or is it also relevant and responsive in addressing the challenges of this time?” Many principals were at pains trying to figure out where they could place their schools. While a school can have both high performance and relevance, many of our township and village schools may have high academic performance but lack the other.

    I also questioned one principal the other day, to find out how many prominent people his school has produced since he became the school principal. I was not surprised when he could not even come up with one name. Of course this is not a unique story for many of our schools. Our education system has forced schools to focus on attaining high grade 12 results so as to be categorized as performing schools, while failing to put much emphasis on schools to strive to produce citizens who are able to serve society with pride and dignity in various areas of their responsibilities.

    In one of my audio materials titled Five Pillars of teaching, one of the pillars I mention is the pillar of Outcome. This is where many principals are caught surprised.

    It is indisputable that schools are not equal in South Africa. It is also not a secret that more affluent schools are producing fearless learners that are not afraid of challenging stereotypes when it comes to participating in the economy mainly through entrepreneurship. More township schools are generally producing academic citizens who participate in the economy as employees and consumers, mainly employed as civil servants.

    A school that is relevant to the time (responsive to the current challenges) puts in place processes that foster holistic teaching and learning throughout all grades. This is more than just the grade 12 results, such a school focuses on various processes that give rise to the good and consistent grade 12 results. One tends to see proper allocation of responsibilities and the targeted monitoring and evaluation followed by strong accountability sessions. Principals of such schools think about what will happen with the school in the next 10 to 15 years and that is why their focus also takes into cognizance the succession plans on the HOD’s and deputy principals. This process is embarked on so that they can be able to develop their potential successors before they are forced to replace.

    Relevant schools serve the purpose well while performing schools focus on immediate results. The danger of focusing on immediate results is that the focus is on the one who is here now but cares less about what this learner can achieve in the future. If you think about this, relevant schools focus on building consistency and they build enough capacity across the grades which helps them to evolve with the needs of the time. Many of our “performing schools” as called because of their grade 12 results, allocate their “good teachers” to grade 12 to keep the results of grade 12 in an acceptable level to meet the target of the district. The big challenge is that all these schools are year in and year out part of the district support program in provinces (SSIP as it is known in Gauteng). This creates a perpetual dependence of schools to the funding that DBE offers through various agencies in the various provinces. The problem with this is that schools do not build capacity at grade 8 and 9 level to arrest the potential problems of the future, but focus on what can be done today. What is amazing is that these schools are never weaned out of the support program, because in essence, many of them are dysfunctional. But if you look at the functional schools, they do not receive the support of the district programs but they continuously achieve better results with large enrolments because of the capacity they built over time.

    How relevant are most of our schools currently except for the fact that they are solving the problem of keeping the learners occupied throughout the year?  Take a province like Limpopo for example, in 2020, more than 300 schools performed at less than 50% in grade 12 alone. These results are surely a reflection of what has happened in the past few years of the same cohort of learners at least from grade 10. If you look at the outcome of these 300 schools, how many of their learners can we confidently say they have a great opportunity of participating fruitfully in the economy? Your guess will be as good as mine on this one.

    Another important factor that our education system has shied away from is interrogating what kind of citizen it is aiming to produce. It is indispensable that our education system produces a citizen who is not going to just be compliant, but a citizen who will be critical of the situations and circumstances in order to challenge the status quo. Many products of our education system, are defeated even before they begin the fight. I am sure that there are so many young people who have retired themselves to the receipt of the R350 grant from the government as the only reliable means. This kind of citizen cannot not be rehabilitated in the next few years because of the mental zone they are in. Sadly, the government does not have the capacity to take care of this citizen for long, even though they are in denial of this fact.   

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