Not a single child got more than 80% for maths.

Dunce cap in the Victorian schoolroom at the M...

What? Come again? Only 970 out of 194165 grade 9 pupils in the Limpopo (a province in South Africa) public schools system got more than 50% for maths this year. 0 (yes, ZERO) got more than 80%! That’s zero pupils (or ‘learners’ as we are meant to call them – arggh) got an A average for maths in the year before they have to select the subjects they will take through to the end of their high school lives and the ones that dictate what they will be able to study in college or university and possibly what they do with their lives.

What the hell is going on? Granted, I am jumping on a statistical headline grabber in the local paper but huh?  This is only a small (population wise) province but being small it should have been one of the easiest to improve and achieve decent results. Now statistics are easily manipulated to mean anything but if this is any indication of the country averages (don’t suppose those are available to the general public – just wait till the proposed secrecy act becomes a reality), how the hell is South Africa meant to drag itself up out of poverty and inequality if this is the latest Education Department report card – a measure of how well the people most responsible for the future of our people are doing?

I refuse to believe that out of almost 200k kids, there is not a single child naturally smart enough to be able to do grade 9 maths?  What are the chances of that?  Is there something in the water in Limpopo?  Now I was pretty crap at maths (I was a jock remember, and a creative type to boot) and went to a public school way back in the Dark Ages (early 90’s) but even I managed to scrape through. I probably got one of the worst math marks for my matric class (final year in high school for those readers across the pond) and more than 25% of my fellow students got more than 90% for maths finals. Yes. I was a jock in a nerdy school – haven’t I mentioned that yet?

Granted, I had classrooms with roofs, running water and toilets, desks to sit behind, books to use and teachers who gave a damn. I was fed and did not have to worry about being stabbed by a ‘friend’ on the way home.  Unfortunately that’s what the large majority of South African kids have to deal with so maybe education is the last thing on their minds – but it should not be.

Sure, I benefited from a regime that I, at the time knew very little about (jock remember, what’s politics?), but if we strip all that away and think about the fact that its been 19 years since we became the Rainbow Nation shouldn’t the children of our new democracy be the first to benefit from the changes? That’s 19 years of children to make it work – millions of future adults working and building a better country that have missed out. It’s long enough for someone born on on the day of our first democratic election to have grown up entirely in the new era and now (hopefully) attending university or getting a job.

And what about the infrastructure problems?  Why can’t the government afford to install toilets at public schools?  Why can’t the government deliver textbooks?  Is it more important for tax payers money to be spent on presidential mansions, excessive air travel and parties for cronies? Why have the people in power just ignored the plight of the children? Or is it all some conspiracy theory to keep the population dumbed down so that those in power can extend the run of the gravy train before the public realises that they are being milked like scrawny cows in a dilapidated barn.

I have lived on the outskirts of education for most of my life. My sister and mother used to teach. My father still does, although he is now in the private system after decades in public. I know what can be achieved with very little by dedicated teachers who believe in what they are doing. I have had the privilege of being taught by teachers who used their own money to pay for class outings to museums and extra photocopies of worksheets when the school ran out of paper. Money they could ill afford to use yet they did, because (I believethey were true selfless teachers (a species almost driven extinct by the education department) – let me tell you, as a son of a public school teacher, teachers never got much money in the Dark Ages either – I wore my school shoes till they were so scuffed they had holes and no amount of boot polish helped.  I suppose I at least had shoes, and boot polish.

There are many good people in public education, some quite vocal, and I am sure that there are many teachers still in the public system who are there because they believe in teaching. I am sure that there are schools trying their best without any support. I applaud them all… I just hope that somehow they are able to make a change from within a crumbling establishment before it’s too late – perhaps it can never be too late when it comes to children, but lets hope they can make a real difference soon.

I am very thankful that my kids go to private school (no thanks to my current lack of income generating potential) and that they are not subject to the same problems that the majority of the children in the country are. It is not easy to choke down on the yearly school invoices that can be as much as ten to twenty times (and more) what public schools require, but the long hours my wife works and sacrifices we make are to ensure that our kids get the best we can give them and I am sure that most parents in SA want the same.

Now if only the people pulling the strings cared as much. I wonder who of our illustrious leaders still send their children to public schools.


ps. Yes. I apologise, I did promise that this blog would not to rant about politics but in my defence I am only making a few jabs at our leadership. ;-P


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