Don’t leave the beginners behind

What troubles me most, is that the so-called student leaders who are demanding free tertiary education for all, while shutting down our universities and systematically destroying our precious educational infrastructure, are the supposed leaders of tomorrow.

They seem incapable of – or unwilling to – see that striving for free tertiary education for all will simply deepen the class divide that they are attempting to bridge at our tertiary institutions.

Of the order of 80% of university students come from former model C schools or private schools. Why?

Because universities naturally accept the cream of the matric crop that applies for admission, and that cream will be forthcoming from the better resourced part of our primary and secondary education system.

Despite throwing proportionately the largest education budget in the world at our school system for 22 years, the overwhelming majority of our schools are poorly equipped and under resourced.

SADTU retains its stranglehold on our educators, demanding ever higher salaries and easier conditions of employment, and ever decreasing oversight of teaching activities. The system is moribund. It is broken.

Over the years, as the department of basic education has overseen the dumbing down of our matriculation standard – now a mere 33% – in order to manipulate the annual pass rate, the likelihood of children from poor backgrounds gaining entry to university has steadily declined.

Under resourced schools – the overwhelming majority from poor areas – simply cannot equip leaners academically such that they will be able to gain access to university, and more importantly, cope with the rigors of academic life during a three or four year university undergraduate program.

Each year when matric results are announced, the best performing schools – and top performing pupils – are largely from the private school sector or former model C schools.

They go on to easily gain admission to university, and the alarmingly high first year drop out rate aside, generally succeed in completing an undergraduate qualification.

Good matric grades mean that these pupils – already privileged by the demographic dividend – stand a far greater chance of being awarded either a bursary or a scholarship, and many of them do, even though their parents are more likely able to fund a university education unaided.

Making tertiary education free for all will do nothing to bridge the class divide, nor will it magically open access for the poor to university, because admission standards are unlikely to be dumbed down to the point where academically ill-equipped pupils are able to meet the admission criteria.

The only long term solution is a complete overhaul of the basic education system, a clearing of the log jam in building and resourcing schools all over the country, establishment of rigorous standards of academic performance at each grade level including matric, and the breaking of the death grip of SADTU such that educators can be held accountable once more for their performance in the classroom. But what are the chances of that happening?

Dismantling and rebuilding the inefficient monstrosity constructed by the likes of Angie Motshekga and her predecessors – she did not do this alone – is as mammoth a task as dismantling the patronage network created over the last eight years by Jacob Zuma.

There is nobody in the ANC or government with the cojones to tackle either task.