With the matric results of 1997 now available, including indications that the Gauteng results are also 5% down from last year, a gloomy picture of our school system emerges. The simple truth is that without an adequate educational system, all our other national efforts to curb joblessness, poverty and crime, and become a nation of hope and a world player in the new millennium, will come to nothing. Adequate education now, more than ever, needs to become an urgent national priority.

The following should be noted:

  • A culture of learning, teaching and discipline needs to be cultivated in our schools as a matter of utmost urgency. Without this prerequisite, the ‘outcomes-based’ policy of Curriculum 2000, with its much less emphasis on regular examining, will be a humiliating disaster, leading to even worse matric results. This culture of learning, teaching and discipline will have to eradicate the disastrous consequences of the upheavals in black education in the 1980’s with the ‘liberation before education’ rallying cry. It also needs to address the problems of bad school management and unmotivated or ill-trained teachers, and really involve parents as a crucial component of a well-run educational system. By empowering principals, teachers and school governing bodies and moving away from an over-centralised and interventionist system, the foundations for a successful system would have been laid.
  • This need for a culture of learning, teaching and discipline is essentially part of the need for a moral regeneration of the very fibre of our society. It is not acceptable for teachers to turn up late for school or not at all, to allow strikes and protests to take priority over proper teaching, or to order handbooks late or not at all. Pupils should also attend school and take responsibility for their education, whilst parents and the community need to take co-responsibility, creating the best possible environment for educating their children.
  • Unsettling government policies regarding the appointment of teachers should be reviewed in total. The whole retrenchment scheme has wrecked havoc with the morale of teachers and has drained schools of some of the best and brightest teachers. In some instances, it has led to irreparable damage.
  • Balancing the restraints of the budget with the provision of the best possible education – including teaching staff – needs a more creative approach that the hamhanded and haphazard efforts at present. A careful and thorough analysis of the whole education system needs to be made in order to satisfy the demands for a system offering the best possible value for money. If, however, this has indicated a too thinly spread budget, the Government should ask itself if the country could afford not to spend the shortfall.

The UDM supports calls for an urgent national summit involving all educational stakeholders. The agenda should include the above-mentioned points and be aimed at resolving problems and finding solutions, not distributing blame.

The 1997 matric results are timely alarm bells that Government dares not ignore. The country now waits for Government to react creatively, decisively and promptly. If that is the sole legacy of the ‘class of 1997’, their results would at least have served a purpose; for those who did well, we wish to convey our congratulations.