Are we the dumbest nation on earth?

David Bullard says the ANC’s cruellest failure has been in education

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Oudtshoorn. 29 March 2012. 07h30. Of the many cruel and unkind acts the ANC has committed against the very people whose interests it purports to represent, the cruellest must be the shambles that passes for education in this country. Promising to create 5 million new jobs to the ever growing mass of unemployed people was pretty mean spirited but adults are used to the wily ways of politicians and surely not even the most gullible ANC voter believed that 5 million jobs could be created out of thin air. But cynically rigging the education system and thereby putting in jeopardy the futures of children born into a post 1994 democratic South Africa is a veritable kick in the teeth for those who put their faith in the ANC eighteen years ago.

Last week struggle veteran Mamphela Ramphele accused the government of deception when it boasted of a matric pass rate of 70.2%. She went further and made the comment that education under the ANC was now worse than it was during the apartheid era. Another leading educationalist Prof Jonathan Jansen, the rector of Free State University, has long held similar views and written about them and there are other black educationalists who have also felt emboldened enough to speak out and risk upsetting the “ruling party” as the ANC prefer to be known.

The question is, do the ANC give a damn? Probably not. The obvious reason for the 70.2% matric pass rate is to make the ANC look good and to justify the fact that we have not one but two education ministers, both of them hideously unsuited to the task as it happens. And if kids think they have done well by just passing matric then they’ll grow up a lot happier and believe that the ANC has waved a magic wand and given them what apartheid never could….dignity.

Unfortunately it’s all smoke and mirrors stuff though because those faux matric results no longer have any credibility and equip learners for nothing but the scrap heap. If someone with one of these dodgy matric passes does manage to get into university thanks to some demographic fast tracking (courtesy of more interference from the ruling party) they’ll be without the literacy and numeracy skills needed to make a decent go of it.

Presumably that would be the cue for champagne socialist Blade Nzimande, our luxury car driving minister for higher education, to demand that universities give more previously disadvantaged persons degrees on pain of being labelled racists if they refuse.

Many of our universities have become a joke internationally and rank well down the list of credible institutions of tertiary learning. It’s telling that our Chinese and Indian business partners choose to send their children to US or UK universities rather than to South African universities. It would be unkind to single out any particular institution but suffice to say that universities that had an excellent reputation twenty years ago are now regarded with disdain by serious educationalists. The degrees they hand out simply don’t cut it in the big wide world.

Not that the students will care very much. They have been conned into believing that they were bright enough to pass matric and they will also be conned into thinking they actually deserved to get their degree. Obviously they won’t be studying difficult things like engineering, accountancy or any of the science subjects because that requires mathematical skills govt schooling has denied to them, so they will register for the less cerebral three year honours degree in Gender Studies or Liberation Economics and wonder why nobody wants to employ them when the system spits them out with a meaningless piece of paper after three years.

The ANC’s enthusiasm for mediocrity (far more democratic than excellence) is well known and their policy of bringing the quality of education down to the lowest common denominator has worked well for them politically.

Firstly, what possible advantage to the ANC could there be in an educated electorate? Secondly, it means that the country will never have a shortage of teachers because “teaching” in SA for many is simply a matter of turning up (or not) at a school, making sure the kids don’t set fire to anything before they go home again, and collecting a cheque at the end of the month. No accountability, no fear of being sacked and then there are the long paid holidays. Who wouldn’t want to be a “teacher” in SA? The pockets of excellence (and they exist) are deliberately played down by the ANC because they would show up the rest of the system for the sham it is. 

Thank heavens for outspoken critics like Ramphele and Jansen but even if their words are heeded and change comes about we still have the disillusioned kids from the past decade who have been betrayed by the education system. Since they can’t all become President of the ANCYL, many will just wander the streets, full of resentment and the prospect of a wasted life with a phoney matric.

Mathews Phosa recently warned of the risk of an Arab Spring style uprising in this country if the government doesn’t tackle rising unemployment among the youth. The difference with the so called Arab Spring though is that it was the educated youth with no job prospects in those countries that were the core of the revolution.

Many of those on the streets were young people with university degrees frustrated at the lack of opportunity in their own country. What we face in this country is the potential of a rampaging “matric” mob without even basic literacy or numeracy skills. That’s far more terrifying because, having been screwed over by their liberation party, they know they have nothing more to lose. 

Published on politicsweb on 28 March.

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