Speech by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, MP, at the Wits SRC Education Week.
5 August 2008
Chairperson – Professor Mary Metcalfe
Professor Loyiso Nongxa – Vice Chancellor
Professor Yunus Ballim – Deputy Vice Chancellor and other members of University management,
Members of the Student Representative Council
Staff and Students of the University
Ladies and Gentlemen
Congratulations to the SRC for hosting such debates on key issues confronting South Africa .
Our public discourse is in need of rational thought, evidence based reflections, and propositions that advance our national agenda of deep seated social change.
The leadership universities should play in developing new strategies, new ideas and fresh solutions will be advanced by your determined retention of this forum of ideas.
The invitation suggested a focus on education and specifically the challenge of bridging the interface between school and university.
All of you are aware of the challenges we continue to face in education. Our schools, colleges and universities continue to bear the imprint of the heavy footsteps of the legacy of apartheid education.
We have made progress in the fourteen years of democracy, but there is still a great deal more that must be done.
On the positive side, the challenge of access to schooling has been addressed through legalising the right to education and implanting the right through appropriate legislation. A further positive is that girls enjoy equal access to schooling. Girls are 50% of the school level population.
Significant resources are devoted to education. Over 20% of the national budget goes to education.
Decisive steps have been taken to expand education offerings through funding, and recapitalisation of FET colleges. This sector is set to grow to around 800 000 students in the next seven years. We are also investigating the development of flexible options in the school level sector. We need to move beyond compelling students to follow an academic learning pathway.
At the university level, the access of African students has risen from 37% in 1992 to 63% in 2006.
For the first time ever all learners in our schools are following a national curriculum.
Despite these and many other positive changes, we have a system that underperforms and fails to support learners to acquire key skills for learning.
Our performance in Mathematics and Science subjects is dismal and we continue to face inadequate infrastructure, poor and inefficient administration in some provinces, and disaffected and demotivated teachers.
The curriculum changes have been a severely disruptive yet necessary process.
All these challenges have an impact on our ability to ensure that learners emerge from our schools ready and able to grapple with university level study.
The inadequate responsiveness of higher education adds to this mix of problems and results in the revolving door syndrome of access and failure that we find in all our universities.
The through-put statistics of many of our universities is extremely worrying. Fortunately vice chancellors are giving dedicated attention to the development of strategies that will support student retention and success.
Several factors contribute to this mismatch between success at school and success at university.
There is the failure of schools to support learners in acquiring effective competence in the language of learning and teaching.
Many first-year students struggle to adjust to academic language demands and to cope with the high-level demand of independent research and self-directed learning. Few schools alert learners to the changed learning context of university and for many first years university is a deep shock.
This means universities must do more to orient first time entering students to the different learning and teaching context of university.
At schools teachers devote a lot of time to pastoral care. University lectures do not regard such support as their responsibility. Students can become anonymous failures, unrecognized, unseen and deeply troubled.
Attention must be given to addressing this gap. In addition, universities need to acknowledge and provide for increasing numbers of first-generation entrants who do not have the cultural capital that could ease their entry to these institutions.
It is also a known fact that despite the triple mandate of teaching, research and community outreach many lecturers do not have any training in pedagogy and often regard students as an irritant. The students have changed, but many of the lecturers remain the same.
Part of our response to this aspect has been to support academic development programmes and foundation programmes in disciplines that have been prioritised by institutions.
All this implies that much more must be done by schools and universities to address these gaps.
South Africa should not repeat the history of other systems that have taken decades to overcome discrimination and disadvantage.
There are other areas in which higher institutions could and should do much more.
The Constitution of South Africa sets out our aspirations for the character of our nation. It mandates us to build a non-racial, non-sexist democratic society founded on equality, human dignity, and mutual respect.
These values are absent in many of our educational institutions. Girls are often victims of sexual violence or abuse at home, in our schools and in some instances on our campuses.
All of you are familiar with the incidents of racism at UFS. Many institutional leaders were very relieved that the incident was at another campus, but few could report on steps taken to embed the principles referred to earlier in institutional practices.
Our educational institutions (schools, colleges and universities) must do more to address racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. Students and staff should know that when they enter our universities and schools they enter places where principles and values exits in mission statements and in practice and that authorities will act strongly if there is a breach.
In conclusion, it is important to state that the school-university interface is not the only hurdle young people experience. Recent research by Bhorat and others points to a growing graduate unemployment problem, and suggests that more attention should be given to the links between education, employment and entrepreneurship.
Employers complain about the language competence of our graduates, and refer to a poor work ethic and to the absence of analytical skills.
Our institutions should do more to back graduates and their experience of life beyond higher education.
We also need to see increased attention to modernising our university curricula. All students should have a working knowledge of at least one of the indigenous language of South Africa . They should also learn one or more modern languages and get an introduction to African history and civilisation.
In an effort to explore whether such innovation of curricula is possible, I have asked the CHE to investigate the idea of a four year degree structure. I hope you as students will contribute to the debate once the CHE begins its work.
There are many aspects of education that we could and should examine. I trust that this brief outline of some of the issues stimulates debate.
We also want to encourage graduate students to consider university careers. We need to renew the academy, and some of you should commit to teaching research and community development as your future contribution to South Africa .
I hope that some of the women present here will consider aspiring to be vice chancellors, registrars and full professors. We have to break the glass ceiling of academic leadership.
That process must begin in this hall in this forum. My thanks to you all for inviting me. I wish you well in your end-of-year exams and look forward to your contributions to transforming public discourse in South Africa .