Will the Ramaphosa Administration Improve Education in South Africa?

When Jacob Zuma resigned as president of South Africa in light of the ANC’s change of leadership earlier this week, many people were delighted. “No life should be lost in my name and also the ANC should never be divided in my name,” he reportedly stated according to the BBC. However, sources suggest mounting pressure from peers is more to blame as opposed to reverence for the party’s integrity. The Washington Post reported failures to meet post-apartheid promises in addition to numerous corruption allegations during his presidency, inspiring the internal vote of no confidence denouncing the former leader. Yet through it all, there was some attempted good throughout his reign in the field of education. Unfortunately, it arguably did not hit the mark.

In 2015, the OECD ranked South Africa 75th out of 76 countries in terms of education, with 27% of students who attended school for six years still being unable to read. Many things can be blamed, such as lingering apartheid issues or scant resources, but one thing is certain. Education is seriously deficient in some capacity. South African Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshegka even described it as being in a state of crisis. Surprisingly, this is where the scandal-ridden reign of Jacob Zuma becomes relevant. In 2017, the Zuma Administration adjusted the definition of ‘poor,’ announcing but not implementing the introduction of subsidised fees for working class students. In the underfunded education sectors of numerous Western countries, this would be considered a tremendous step in the right direction, but Motshegka warned the BBC otherwise. Stellenbosch University’s Professor Servaas van der Berg found that, out of 1.2 million grade 1 students, less than half went on to pass their end-of-school exams. In December 2015, 213,000 South African children failed their exams out of a total of roughly 800,000. Therefore, with early education so deficient and failure rates so high, what good does additional funding to higher education provide? A more cynical author than I might suggest the new funding was a simple PR move under the well-founded assumption that very few students would ever take advantage of it.

Of course, this is just speculation. All that’s known for sure is the issues still persist despite the impressive-sounding initiative and that funding is not the problem. According to the World Bank, South Africa spent 6.03% of its GDP on education in 2014. This is more than educational benchmarks like the Netherlands (5.53%), Finland (5.4%) and Canada (5.3%). If this is representative of the current year, other avenues for improving education need to be explored, a burden that naturally falls on the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Although Ramaphosa has had much experience as a union leader, mining boss and esteemed member of the ANC, as of yet he is untested as leader of a country. Fortunately, his early days of rule have shown stirrings of trouble. Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba has actually reached out to the public for ideas on how to implement Zuma’s ill-conceived tertiary education plan in preparation for his first budget speech on February 21st. Given our knowledge that increased budget allotments will not solve the underlying problem, the scramble for answers presents another. How is the Ramaphosa Administration even going to pay for it? Gigaba himself calls it a “challenging fiscal situation,” with contributions encouraged from strangers to a Twitter account created specifically for the purpose. Needless to say, this is an incredibly disturbing situation for a ruling party to entreat the populace for answers just days before a budget announcement speech. It is compounded by the fact even finding a way to do it could yield minimal results.

So then, what is it the new leadership requires for an improvement to South African education? Although greater access is desirable, those that use it must see benefits for it to be worthwhile. It must lead to tangible knowledge and skills that might then be taken to tertiary institutions within and without the country. To that end, there are a variety of resources available to teachers and students online. High developed, useful curriculums are available such as the esteemed International Baccalaureate (IB). Teacher training courses can be taken inexpensively to improve understanding of child and adolescent psychology, teaching techniques and ways of communicating with children, adolescents and young adults of varying ages, backgrounds and learning capabilities.

I posit that given ample funding for education, and thus access to the Internet and its abundant resources, the Ramaphosa Administration can consult with professionals from the IB or other institutions from around the world to develop a consistent curriculum and training regime for teachers that would provide an accompanying qualification to assert their worth as a teacher. Select teachers from other countries could be given temporary, lucrative positions with the task of training existing educators in the country. To incentivise parents in sending their children to school, or at the very least encouraging them, a midday meal scheme similar to the one implemented by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in India under the Modi Adminstration could be implemented to simultaneously create jobs and alleviate parents of the sometimes-taxing burden of feeding their children.

Although Jacob Zuma’s resignation has fostered unity once again in the ANC, it seems President Ramaphosa has his work cut out for him. He must bear the burden of his predecessor’s misguided promise whilst developing new and effective solutions that properly utilise the handsome sum allocated to education. Therefore, in conclusion it must be said that South African education has an uncertain and potentially bleak time ahead. It will take extraordinary resolve and determination to pull through. Fortunately, South Africa is a country whose people have proven themselves capable of steering their own course and building their own, better future.