Basic Education

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“The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society.” [Marx, Theses on Feuerbach: Thesis 3. 1845]

Basic education in our country still faces significant problems. The problems we face may be outlined as follows:

  • A large percentage of our school-aged children do not attend school beyond the primary level: only 87% attend at the secondary school level;
  • The Human Sciences Research Council has found that at least 12 million children live in a state of poverty;
  • Four million of these children are starving and 40% have growth problems;
  • Other research reveals that 81% of children experience income and material depravation and many live in informal settlements;
  • More than 50% of children live in households where no adult is employed;
  • Approximately 24% of children are in the wrong grade for their age;
  • 6% of children are currently not attending school;
  • 24% of children live in households without both parents;
  • HIV/AIDS has a major impact on school-going children;
  • Many schools are deprived of resources, facilities and qualified teachers;
  • In the SACMEQ survey it was shown that most South African students perform more poorly on mathematics than most other African countries;
  • 27% of South African students graduating from primary education are functionally illiterate;
  • 40% of South African students graduating from primary education are functionally innumerate;
  • Our education system is essentially two education systems: one that serves historically black areas; and the other that serves historically white, Asian and coloured communities – the latter system is much better funded and students in this system perform significantly higher in tests of literacy and numeracy;

According to the National Development Plan the measures to correct our basic education system are: (1) Developing capacity within the teaching force; (2) School management for instructional leadership; (3) Strengthening relationships of accountability and support among stakeholders throughout the school system; (4) Sharpening accountability through better information to parents and education authorities; (5) Improve understanding of the language issues; and (6) Improve the quality of ECD facilities.

As with so much of the NDP, the focus and diagnostic here is completely wrong. The NDP assumes that the problem is at the level of quality of teaching and accountability: the typical kind of public management paradigm thinking that informs the NDP. When the accountability of the education system is not identified as being the cause of problems in education, the fault is normally laid at the feet of OBE.



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What are the root causes of the problems in South Africa? Are they the ones suggested by the NDP? The root causes have to do with the following:

  • The commodification of education:

Today the question of education is largely a question of money and commodification. This tendency arose with the implementation of new-liberal policies under the 1996 Class Project. The rationale has always been that an unfettered education market will deliver better outcomes. A specific policy of this tendency was the establishment of a system of private education for the wealthy and the elite. But it went further than that: it led to a fragmentation of the national school administrative system and the implementation of a public management paradigm; the focus on standardized-testing; the downgrading of teacher education; the cutting of education departments of technical competence and expertise; and the rise of the education tender environment.

  • Education in a historical context:

The majority of our people live in a state of dependence and in conditions of social oppression. Education as it is presently conceived, does not favor our people. Only individuals living under favorable circumstances, can achieve a favorable educational outcome. This reality has a historical origin. The reality is that while significant gains have been made in education, the system itself is largely untransformed, functions under the material conditions of ‘Apartheid’/’Bantu’ education and is differentiated and segregated. It is a reality that the average black person will not be able to obtain a favorable outcome from education. This is a function of the levels of poverty and stratification that exist within South African society.

  • The treatment of education as a service and not a right:

There is a large part of the discussion on basic education that has become to position education as a service to be delivered by the state and must subsequently be held ‘accountable’ and must be ‘implemented’. We need to be very suspicious of service-based education, and of narratives that are highly focused on ‘accountability’ and ‘implementation’. Our way of seeing education has become so distorted that we have reduced it down to a service with benchmarks and performance evaluation.

  • The growth of the education ‘industry’ and its influence on the education sector:

Provision for inputs into the education system such as the production of textbooks and workbooks has become a major industry. Our education system regularly puts out the essential material elements of education, out to tender. This has both a direct and indirect impact on education. Directly, schools which are part of the public education system, are reliant on provincial or national departments for the provision of basic material needs, such as tables, books, learning and teaching aids and so forth. These schools are under-funded with respect to this type of free-market provision of education needs. Indirectly, this system allows the market to influence the pedagogy and curriculum through the design and supply of learning materials. What we have is a market-influenced pedagogy and curriculum.

  • The installation of a public management paradigm over the provision of education:

As a result of the influence of neoliberalism on the state in the recent past the public management paradigm has become prevalent in education. This paradigm has seen the gutting of the line functions of the Department of Basic Education, the removal of technical competence and expertise at the national and provincial level and has led to an understanding of education as being measurable and accountable based on performance evaluations. The state with regard to education is seen as a menacing interventionist force that needs to be reduced as far as possible with its only role being that of monitoring. Private sector experts are employed to determine issues such as the size of classrooms, the nature of the pedagogy utilized and even the content of the curriculum.

  • The lack of transformation in the education sector:

We are largely, in structural terms, still operating under an untransformed education sector. Though there has been growth in terms of the black middle class, this class has sent its children to schools in formerly whites-only areas. The structural apartheid of education is largely unchanged since 1994. In some ways, it has become more untransformed with the rise of the private schooling sector.

  • The system of market competition between schools:

The schooling system at the moment has developed into an anachronistic system where private schools are seen to engage in a selection process for the purposes of drafting a student body. This system allows parents to ‘shop’ between different private schools based on their affordability, particular aspects of the education provided by these institutions and so forth. Learners who come from families that must utilize the public education system do not have a choice regarding where they go to school as admissions are based on districts. This system has led to an education structure that promotes hierarchy and elitism. It is also a system that rewards and promotes examination results as the central aim of education: this elitist system is aimed at producing candidates able to engage in tertiary study. Students who are enrolled in public schools are unable to enter into this system because of the structural inequalities that exist and operate on the public schooling system. It is the middle class that has the means – cars, income, the cost of transport and so forth – to make a choice as to which school their children will attend. This serves to reinforce patterns of segregation; it reinforces middle class consciousness; it alienates learners who attend private and public schooling from each other; it reinforces the legacy of Apartheid and so on. This feature in South African education has led to significant differentiation within the schooling system.

  • Outcomes within the education system are largely related to poverty:

Poverty can be used as an effective yard-stick to determine the level of educational attainment that learners – on average – may attain. Learners from disadvantaged and poor areas are forced to use the under-funded and under-resourced public schooling system. The model used by the Department of Basic Education and the one advocated by reformers is ‘standardized-testing’. However, for reasons outlined below, standardized-testing does not actually indicate the real level of student knowledge and growth. What it measures – very accurately – is wealth. If judge examination results, what we see is a strong correlation between high test scores and relevant affluence in learners communities. This is the system we use to measure teacher and learner performance, but the outcomes of standardized-testing is largely influenced by socio-economic status. This system of standardized-testing penalize students coming from poorer communities.

  • The education system is at the forefront of the naked class war being waged against the working class and the poor:

Our education system is a reflection of the larger socio-economic structural reality in South Africa. Education is an extremely focused area of the class war being waged on the working class and the poor. The system of education – its pedagogy, curricula and intended outcomes – are determined by academics and bureaucrats working mainly in conjunction with private schools. Universities and other higher education institutions do not take cognizance of the background of applicants, effectively penalizing learners from the public education system. Learners in private education benefit from massive investment by parents and companies in their education system, a pool of funding not available to learners in the public school system.  The ‘standards-based’ testing system that is being used completely ignores the radical differences in the challenges faced by learners and schools in different communities. Students from low-income, black or single-parent families are strained by low wages, poverty, long working hours and systematic structural discrimination. The ideology of the neoliberals and neoconservatives seeking to capture basic education is oppress such students and reproduce and replicate the material conditions of their oppression.

  • The ratio of teachers to students is too low:

If we compare ourselves to Cuba, what becomes apparent is that we have an unacceptably high ratio of teachers to students. In South Africa we sit at an average of 30.4 students per teacher: Cuba sits more comfortably at 8 learners per teacher. This has a significant outcome on the ability of teachers to educate and in the amount of time that each teacher spends with each learner. Cuba has an exemplary education system that we should look to for examples: the ratio of learners to educators is a prime factor in this.

  • The ideology of the schooling system is problematic:

Children in both our public and private schooling systems are under the influence of a materialistic, capitalist ideology that promotes competition, individualism and teaches children that they must set up businesses, that they must value moneymaking and are indoctrinated in the ‘spirit of enterprise’. This is against leftist notions of collectivity, solidarity, public service and working for and in the public good.

  • Localization of schools:

A tendency in the current public management paradigm of administering schools is that of localization. Essentially national control and purview of schools is reduced and diminished in favour of ‘local’ organization and administration of schools. At the administrative level, this tendency is best represented in the massive decentralization of schooling that has happened in the last two decades. Localization makes it more difficult to implement policies from the national level, it leads to differentiation as ‘localization’ of schooling takes different forms, it promotes the capture of schools by interest groups, it diminishes the ability of a national Department of Education from transforming the school system and it allows for the advancement of the privatization of schooling. Localization also  lead to the destruction of national agreements, weaken the ability of national pay bargaining with trade unions, affect national pay scales and national work agreements.

  • Our schooling system is overly focused on examinations and not on delivering skills and expertise for the economy and society:

Our education system is overly focused on examination results, on testing – the majority of this testing is seen as a method of determining entry into universities. This is despite the fact that the majority of learners would be better off learning skills and expertise intended for use and that speak to the economy. This is not to undercut the proper role of education – which is to educate. Rather, there needs to be a serious rethink of how schooling is geared at present, to allow us to effectively channel students dependent on their intellectual abilities and the job market. Learners who wish to achieve entry into university should be channeled through a specific stream intended to give them the skills and knowledge to be successful at universities. However, the vast majority of learners would be better off learning skills and achieving technical expertise and proficiency. It is simply inappropriate in a country that requires re-industrialization, that requires the development of its manufacturing capacity and that needs to seriously address agriculture, to be so focused on a system that is geared towards university admission. If we are to effectively re-industrialize, re-build our manufacturing sector and revitalize agriculture we will need to install appropriate skills, attitudes and technical expertise in our learners.

  • Our Pedagogy has serious flaws:

Standardized testing has led to the pervasive ‘teaching the test’ pedagogy in our schools. The whole school year and experience is reduced to performance on a single linguistics/literacy and mathematics/numeracy test at the end of the year. This has led to the downgrading of disciplines in schools such as social studies, critical thinking, arts, music and other subjects that lead to a rounded education. Our focus on the ‘core’ measures of literacy and mathematics focus so heavily on standardized testing that the result is educators teaching a very narrow curriculum and this leads to a degrading of the quality of instruction. Educators are forced to focus on the ‘skills’ which are expected to come up as well as on the test-taking itself.

  • There is a disparity between rural and urban schooling:

Rural schools are amongst the most underfunded, understaffed and under resourced schools in the public schooling system. Learners in rural areas face massive challenges in getting to schools, with travel over long distances being a specific concern. Rural schools have lower outcomes when correlated against urban schools. This results in rural patterns of poverty being replicated. It results in a situation where rural school learners are more likely to be trapped into cycles of poverty and marginalization.

  • The ‘Accountability’ Narrative:

Will the ‘Accountability’ narrative looks good at first sight – who, after all, could disagree that teachers and schools should be held accountable for what they do – the reality is that it is a slogan under neoliberal and neoconservative ideas are promulgated. The accountability narrative has become, in South Africa, the first response to our crisis in basic education. This narrative is based on an idea that intensive ‘standards-testing’ can show where educators “are slipping up”. While we are not opposed to testing used to drive instruction, the current regime of standards-testing goes much further. It forms the outcome of the dogmatic belief that data from reading and math tests should be used to evaluate all sorts of decisions such as the quality of education being provided, evaluation and performance of educators and so forth. The reformers want to use this standard (test-scores) to enforce “accountability” on the narrow view that test-scores can indicate the level of performance. There is no understanding on the part of the reformers that schools teaching large numbers of vulnerable or marginalized children could have successes measured on other levels other than standardized testing – for example, how does this system measure the role a school plays in supporting its community, helping teenage mothers stay in education, deal with children who are homeless or have no parents, or how does it take into account the problems facing schools where the student body does not have English as a first language?


What is to be done?

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What are the solutions to these problems? Some solutions are very broad in scope, others specific to this area:

  • An Epistemological Revolution in education is needed:

We are dominated by a largely Western system of education that puts strong focus and emphasis on the individual, on competition, on mathematical and linguistic expertise, on outcomes centered around university admission, on materialism, on analysis and so forth. The pedagogy and values of education in South Africa require an epistemological revolution to reorient our method of educating so that it reflects more African values such as (1) moral personhood; (2) humanism as a foundation for morality and ethics; (3) the notion of the common good; (4) social – as opposed to individualistic – ethics; and (5) the ethics of duty, not of rights.

  • Education should be funded on a per capita basis:

The current method of investment by the public sector in education only serves to reinforce and replicate existing patterns of stratification, poverty and marginalization. The reality is that there is a vast inequality regarding the resources invested into schools. While we certainly do need to eliminate the private schools that serve the elites of the upper middle class (see below), we also need to ensure that historically and structurally disadvantaged schools receive more funding and resources. This can be achieved by funding schools on the principle of using the per capita measurement as a mechanism to determine where funding and resources are allocation, with the lions share going to schools in poor areas and schools utilized by the working class.

 The fundamental values installed by education must change:

The values of schooling must change from the market-inspired values of individualism, competition and materialism, to the values of cooperation, discipline, sacrifice and moral motivation. This can be achieved in various ways. In particular we should stress and require learners to participate in defending and developing the Revolution. Our education needs to become ‘integral’ by including work and military training, with mass organizations mobilizing the participation of students in the programmes of the Revolution. The duty of schools should be reoriented to teaching young people about the leading role of the material conditions of production in shaping social and political events. Young people should also be given an understanding and some experience in the way production processes are organized; the social consequences of different ways of organizing production and the importance of technological change.

  • Acknowledging that the problems of the education sector lie in both in the structure of the inherited Apartheid education system and in the prevailing capitalist environment:

The poor performance of our education system is a reflection of the socio-economic conditions in which the education sector operates. Fundamental transformation has still not occurred within South Africa: is it any wonder that our education system and the learners coming out from replicate the socio-economic conditions in South Africa? It is important to remember that there was a system of unequal education inherited from Apartheid. It is also important to remember that our education system is structurally representative of the neoliberal policies that still exist within the state. To move forward, we need to stop being shy about what the mess left by Apartheid and the fact that the education sector is deeply influenced by the current socio-economic system operating in South Africa.

  • Unions of teachers must be mobilized to address the root causes of our education crisis:

There is a strong need for teacher’s trade unions to advance the gains made to date. In particular, trade unions need to work towards stronger national agreements, need to push forward national pay bargaining and national pay scales and need to work strongly for national work agreements. In particular trade unions must work to undermine and remove the dual payment system that exists between private and public schools. In addition, trade unions must work hard to incorporate private school teachers amongst their numbers. Localization of trade bargaining must be resisted: it will lead to cutting teacher’s pay in poor areas; it will destroy the unity of teachers; cutting of pensions; changes to retirement age; it will affect teacher’s rights to strike; it will make it easier for those resisting transformation in the education sector and it will fragment political unity between trade unions. A tendency that has emerged from anti-progressive forces is to argue that teachers perform a ‘vital function’ and thus should be restricted from striking. This should be resisted at all costs. Indeed trade unions for teachers must advance and demand further benefits for teachers including a substantially valuable pension and healthcare. Seniority is also under attack. Without seniority rights in staff reductions or reallocations, principals and governing bodies will fire educator’s they don’t like, and this will be focus on getting rid of union activists. Without firm and progressive trade unions, educators will not be able to defend and advance their working conditions, nor will they be able to advocate for students’ rights. The reformers and the NDP will create a situation in which ‘bad schools’ and ‘bad teachers’ become the root causes of why children from our poor communities don’t achieve their potential. The proposed system will penalize teachers on this basis. This must be resisted.

  • The principles of collectivism must be adopted at the level of education:

Instead of focusing on individual outcomes (through examinations), we should instead re-orientate the intended outcome of basic education as sitting within the collective good.

  • Promotion of people’s power:

We must promote and advance the organs of people’s power such as people’s assemblies, and get them actively involved in the education system. We need communities to collectively work together to ensure the best educational outcomes for learners and for the collective.

  • Work to undermine the current trajectory of class polarization:

Class polarization is a massive problem that is fueling our problems with ensuring that education is received. We have a bi-schooling system of private and public schools.

  • Addressing religion in education:

There is a worrying trend emerging in some sections of the private schooling system, and that is the conflation of religious education with secular education. We must fight for an education system that stresses atheism and a system that places anti-religious propaganda in schools. We should emphasize the superior quality of the answers which science – as opposed to religion – can give to the basic questions of human existence.

  • Re-orientating the educational ideological apparatus:

As Althusser showed, education is one of the central ideological apparatus’ utilized by the state. If we examine and question what the purpose of our current education system is – its ideological outcomes – the conclusion that we reach is that it is based on achieving favorable examination outcomes, and that it is geared towards producing consumers for the capitalist market. The function of education must be to produce ardent revolutionaries ready to rebel, to establish a new order, and to bring up new generations of dexterous laborers to take put the tasks of development. Our schools should aim to produce diligent workers, who will have a clear insight into the dynamics of social change, will understand and be skilled in technology and follow the tenets of Marxism-Leninism.

  • We need a new form of pedagogy:

We are desperately in need of a democratic, participative pedagogy which breaks down patterns of submission and domination. In particular we must reject the regimentation model of education inherited from the West. We should be seeking to develop the knowledge, talents and independence of young people through hands-on exploration of the world. Critical thinking, debate and the scientific method should be valued above all. Students will spend far more time outside the classroom than they do today and school buildings should become centers for the ongoing educational and cultural developmental of the whole community.

  • Reducing Standards-Based Testing:

We are not opposed to all forms of testing; however, our current system of education relies far too heavily on ‘standards-based’ testing which is overwhelmingly orientated towards university admission, Western-based curriculum and pedagogy as well as favoring mathematical and linguistic aptitude above all. The underlying concepts behind standards-based testing arise out of a particular Western conception of education with its values rooted in competition and individualism. We are opposed to these values, instead wanting values of collectivism, social ethics and duty to replace them. In particular, we need to move away from a system in which the entire school year, indeed the entire education system, is reduced to a couple of tests which are then used to determine teacher performance; to determine how much teachers get paid; to determine whether students have ‘learnt’ and whether a particular school is performing or not. We want to build an education system that embraces human diversity. 

  • The content of curriculum needs addressing:

There are several issues that we need to face head-on. Firstly, is the kind of discourse taught in historically white schools which emphasis the achievements of settlers and colonialists in South Africa. These schools are very specifically guilty of entrenching the historical myths that were developed in the 20th century by a government intent on controlling most of the land of South Africa and segregating its population. This tendency of teachers to engage in a discourse – that even if not tacitly taught – still influences and colors the nature of the education that learners receive. Secondly, even in the official curriculum, there is little emphasis on issues such as the struggle against Apartheid, the negative impact of colonialism and so on. Thirdly, our curriculums do not teach learners critical thinking skills. We want to see the implementation of an authentic, progressive national curriculum that will be developed and evolve with meaningful input from educators, parents and students. The curriculum needs to promote critical thinking and debate, the application of the scientific method and a much wider interaction with the world outside school buildings.

  • The governance of schools needs to be addressed:

We need to move into a situation where school governance is democratic and secular. Schools should be run democratically, with school workers and students, as well as elected representatives of local communities having some power in and over schools, within a secular, democratic framework. This is a very different proposition from the current norm, which is largely that schools are self-governed with a parent’s committee providing oversight and funding, as well as being influenced by companies, private individuals and other interests. However, we need to be careful that this does not lead to the localization tendency: what we want to see is stronger centralization with enhanced democratic socialization of the education system. We need to put democratic socialism to work in our schooling system. Principals should be elected by parents, staff and students.

  • Resist the ‘reforming’ of the education system proposed by the NDP:

The NDP in its diagnostic and recommendations for education is fundamentally flawed. The NDP attempts to address education through the narrow lens of ‘accountability’ and ‘quality’. It suggests that if we somehow made teachers and the education system ‘more accountable’ it would ‘work’ better: tantamount to saying that if we implement more systems to measure education than education will work better. As ‘quality’ what the NDP assumes is that it is the quality of teachers, and not the level of support or resources available to these teachers, that has a material effect on whether and to what extent students learn, which is narrowly defined as the ability to pass examination results. The 1966 Coleman Report found that academic achievement was less related to the quality of a student’s school, and more related to the social composition of the school, the student’s sense of control of his environment and future, the verbal skills of teachers and the school’s family background. The NDP essentially promotes a ‘Social Democratic’ view in which bourgeois society admits that the system of education requires reform and introduces piecemeal measures such as free education of the young: but we must not forget that the ultimate aim of social democrats, liberals and the aim of the NDP is to reform the existing system of capital, not agitate or demand its replacement.

  • Public schools do work if supported:

Research by the OECD has found that raising per-pupil education spending in the public schooling system has a positive correlation in the lifetime earnings of children education in public schools, is positively correlated with reduction in poverty and leads to better outcomes for children. The same research found that there exists no such correlation with regard to per-pupil spending in private schools.

  • Integrating education:

We need to urgently desegregate our education system: in particular we need to integrate historically black, white, colored and Asian schools, and we need to urgently start integrating private and public schools. The 1966 Coleman Report showed that students from disadvantaged backgrounds learn better in an integrated environment. While admission to schools based on district while probably remain in the short-medium term there are specific programmes that we should adopt to better integrate learners. What is needed is a massive exchange programme with learners from different areas and different socio-economic backgrounds exchanging between schools on a regular basis. These learners would attend schools in different districts and be lodged with the family of another exchanged learner. This would be a workable short-medium term method for integrating education, building social awareness and empathy and building solidarity.

  • We need to employ more teachers in the public schooling system:

In order to meet the demands of a revolutionary society which aims to promote both the physical and the mental development and training of the younger generation, the number of teachers will need to rise. At present we have a ratio of 30.4 learners per teacher. If we want to get closer to Cuba as a model, we need to employ more than 100,000 additional teachers. A significant expansion of the education workforce will dramatically reduce class size and create universal access from the ECD level upwards. It will also provide students with the opportunity to engage in community, cultural and sports activities.

  • The problem of access to educational opportunities needs to be addressed:

We need to refocus resources, staff and support to ensure that outcomes for rural schooling begins to match those for urban education.

  • The education sector needs to be play its appropriate role in transforming society:

The late 1980s saw schools as sites of struggle against the Apartheid government. They were sites were the youth assembled and were able to fight towards ending the brutal system of Apartheid. Since 1994, and especially since 2012, schools have become sites for service delivery protests: these represent the voices of communities wanting reforms to the system. Communities are no longer strongly influenced by educators and learners. Youth in schools are no longer mobilized. The education system inherently reproduces inequalities of race, gender and geography that order class relations. It is through the mobilization of learners and educators that these inequalities can be attacked; it is through mobilization of learners and educators that the order of class relations in society can be addressed – it is through mobilization that transformation can occur.

  • Special programmes are required to achieve functional literacy and numeracy, as well as ensuring that there is adequate transfer of skills and expertise:

We need to start addressing the fact that there are specific groups in society that require the implementation of special programmes. Specifically we are talking about the lower segment of the proletariat – domestic workers; persons working in rural areas; informal labour and so forth. These are people who are trapped in poverty, and whose children – without sufficient intervention – will also become trapped into the same patterns of inequality and poverty.

  • Day care Programmes:

The working class faces a major issue with regards to provision of supervision of learners in non-school hours. Working class parents and families do not have the resources to adequately supervise and care for their children throughout the average working day. We need to envisage an education system that provides day care for all learners to Grade 12. Teachers need to look after students throughout the day, not just in schooling hours. However, we should this time available to learners to implement programmes of solidarity, skill and expertise training and so forth. We need to have national after-school care programmes that focus on teachers guiding learners through programmes such as vegetable and plant growth; wood and metal workshopping; litter pick-up and community cleaning; assisting elderly, incapacitated and impaired members of the community; maintenance and cleaning of school property and so forth. This will create a mechanism for students to be introduced to mechanical work, to gardening and agricultural work and so forth, all of which form a vital part of a good education.

  • Day Care Centres:

Working class members, in particular working women, are faced with major challenges with regard to their ability to work after child-birth. Currently there is no major system available to working women that provides day care for children up to the age of 4/5. The result is either that working women must take their younger children to work with them (limiting the kind of work they can do) or they must make alternative arrangements to have children watched by an unemployed relative or friend. There is a strong need to roll out a system of day care centres throughout the country to assist working women. 

  • The private school system must be eliminated:

If we are to build a truly egalitarian society, we must begin by addressing the fact that there is a dual system of education in South Africa. There is no constitutional rationale for the existence of such a system, and it has been the influence of special interest groups, the wealthy and the elite that has allowed the current situation to exist. All schools in South Africa should be part of the public school system.

  • We need a worker-farmer education programme:

Addressing the literacy and numeracy needs of future generations is going to require us to not only change and revolutionize the education system as it will operate in the future, it is also going to require us to ensure that adults have numeracy and literacy skills themselves. This has several objectives: firstly, the youth cannot achieve numeracy and literacy if there is no community effort to educate them – this requires all adult members of the communities themselves to have numeracy and literacy; secondly, raising the level of literacy and numeracy amongst workers and farmers will bring positive benefits to society, particularly the economy; thirdly, we will be addressing one of the fundamental moral outrages of Apartheid, which saw black persons educated only to a level required to undertake manual and service labour; and finally, we will be providing workers, farmers and other beneficiaries with the opportunity to further their own education.

  • Education must be seen as a fundamental part of society, not simply as a process:

Due to the commodification of education, we are faced with a situation in which education is seen as a separate good or service which is operated on at the level of children and adolescents. What we need is to transform society itself so that education is an inherent value that operates throughout society: in the words of Guevara, “To build communism, a new man must be created simultaneously with the material base […] society as a whole must become a huge school”.

  • The schooling system must be reoriented so that it becomes sensitive to intended outcomes:

Schooling must be reoriented so that it speaks to what the intended outcome of education is to be. Education must be regeared towards technical and professional education. The stress should be towards providing technical training including the preparation of qualified workers and low to mid-level technicians. We should be determining the best outcomes for learners at an early stage, and channeling them into streams that are most appropriate for them as individuals, and are appropriate for collective society and the economy as a whole.

  • Strengthening Vocational Guidance:

Despite the introduction of subjects such as ‘Life Orientation’ the reality is that there is little vocational guidance of value provided to learners; even where such guidance is provided, it is geared towards funneling learners towards education at the tertiary level, despite the reality that the majority of learners will be channeled into work not requiring university education. Beyond strengthening and expanding vocational guidance, there are specific interventions that can assist. The first is aptitude testing for learners at the primary school level. Secondly, learners can obtain technical skills through after-school care programmes and gain a better understanding of trade and technical work. 

  • Implementation of a Food Programme for Self-Sufficiency:

The implementation of Food Programme for Self-Sufficiency would see learners at schools growing specific food crops (tomatoes, lettuce etc.) for (1) distribution to their and other communities and (2) as food for their own consumption purposes. Many members of communities in the poorer and marginalized areas of South Africa do not have access to adequate food: this initiative will assist in addressing this problem. Learners through this programme will learn community awareness and build solidarity. Learners engaged in the programme will also be contributing a significant part of their labour for the benefit of the collective.

  • Working School Holidays:

School holidays pose a significant opportunity to engage learners in productive labour as a means of integrating into society, building solidarity, assisting the communities and so forth. The kind of programmes that should be implemented are similar to those with regard to day-care. However, the notion of students exchanging places – as was proposed under integration – should be considered for school holidays, with exchanged students undertaking labour in other communities.

  • Introduction of Civic Education:

Our students are significantly under-served in the area of civic education. We need to introduce, at the after-school care level, significant programmes that introduce and build knowledge of civics within learners. What we intend here is for learners to acquire skills and proficiency in: political participation; building of social capital; being a good citizen; training in the arts; introduction to philosophy and rhetoric; history; functioning in society; the workings of government; compassion and empathy for others; the legal system; citizen rights and human rights; defending democracy; and so forth. An important part of the introduction of civic education would be the establishment of political schools to disseminate the ideology of the Revolution.

  • Cultural Activity and Sport:

There is insufficient stress in the current education system on cultural activity and sport. We must see schools as an opportunity to transmit and translate revolutionary values and norms through dance, music, literature, art and mass media. We must see compulsory participation in sport as creating a healthy, participating citizenry.

  • Reducing Homework:

The current system utilizing a level playing field of homework allocation fails to take note of the division of labour in the households of poorer learners. Learners from privileged backgrounds have a significant advantage over poorer learners by virtue of their conditions. In a system where the same amount of school work is allocated to poorer learners as is allocated to more wealthy learners, learners from elitist, wealthy and privileged backgrounds are going to be have a higher level of success. Although a simple thing, the allocation of labour in the form of homework has a significant role to play in reinforcing class structures in society.

  • Polytechnical Education:

In the 19th century, Marx argued for “Polytechnical Education” linking schooling with the real world of production. The purpose of education, as Marx saw it, was the replacement of the partially developed individual specializing in one social function, by the totally developed individual. Central to the development of a Polytechnical Education is teaching about production and providing labor training and work experience to younger generations. A Polytechnical Education will stress the importance of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines, but it will be more than just subject-learning: a wide range of contacts with work and working people will be fostered through activities including industrial arts, gardening and through the student’s own productive work in enterprises.

  • Reverse the segregation of schools along class lines:

There are various things that need to be done here. Firstly, we need to develop a programme of student exchange, where students ‘swap’ schools for a period of term several times over their schooling. Students from wealthy areas will live and be educated for a period in the poorest of our communities. Conversely, students from poorer areas will have be educated and live for a period in the wealthiest communities. The employment of teachers will have to be sorted out so that we do not end up with a situation in which schools in poor areas are serviced primarily by black educators, and schools in wealthy areas are serviced mainly by white educators. The process of appointing educators to schools should rest with the Department of Basic Education so that it can make appointments so that all students in all schools are taught by a truly diverse group of people.

  • Eliminating merit pay:

Merit pay based on examination results or performance is something to be resisted. This kind of pay promotes division among education workers with no tangible benefits to learners. Because of its basis in standardized-testing, merit pay is based on a single highly dubious quantitative measurement.

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We need to adopt a socialist agenda with regard to basic education. The measures we have proposed will do more to improve the quality of education than all the “data-driven” nonsense peddled by corporate “reformers”. The adoption of more socialist policies towards education will achieve many things. It will harmoniously developed people in a balanced manner. It will equip learners with the various skills, expertise and proficiencies required to get through life. Socialist policies will build solidarity and civic awareness amongst students. Students will come to recognize their role in collective society. We can ensure that students are channeled towards work which suits their intellect, abilities and aptitude. Socialist educational policies will allow us to focus on developing the skills and expertise required to advance our economy, re-industrialize, re-build the manufacturing sector and revitalize agriculture. We will be able to install in learners the values of the collective, of the common good and to doing one’s duty: we will move away from competition, individualism and materialism. Our policies will create citizens fully qualified to exercise all their rights, and fulfil their duties. We will counteract the poisonous influence of the capitalist system of production, the adverse influence of the factory system, of inadequate housing, of poverty; indeed, we will replace it with generations of young people with self-discipline and self-control. We can – and we will – transform education and turn it into a tool which will enable our younger generations to overcome servitude and oppression.




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