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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Quality education starts with schools that work

What would it take to re-imagine South Africa’s education system? It starts with the basics: we must find a way to give each child access to quality education, from early childhood right through to matric.

Since 1994, South Africa has made great progress in dealing with the legacy of a deeply unequal past.

By 2010, South Africa had achieved universal access and gender parity in schooling, and about 99% of learners now complete grade 9 in our schools, according to the Education for All (EFA) 2010 Country Progress Report.

Whilst we have some excellent results, some of the statistics associated with our schools make sad reading.

Last year, for example, we heard from the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy results that 78% of our learners coming out of grade 4 fail tests of reading for comprehension.
Put differently: 8 out of 10 South African grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning.

Education can serve as a powerful tool to deal with the legacy of underdevelopment and tackle the challenges of inequality, unemployment, and poverty. These are all massive socio-economic issues that start being addressed when education outcomes improve, especially in a country like South Africa.

So how do we do this? Like many companies, Anglo American has historically made substantial investments in education.

Over the last five years alone, we have invested over R780 million on educational resources and skills development.

However, we have realised that more needs to be done to help learners achieve their academic potential.

This week, we launched the Anglo American South Africa Education Programme, in partnership with the Department of Basic Education.

The programme will focus on 100 early childhood development (ECD) sites local to Anglo American’s operations, as well as a “whole school” systemic approach for 100 primary and secondary schools in these areas.

Many of these schools are “no-fee” schools.

In other words, they simply don’t have the resources that many other schools do.

This programme aims to improve educational outcomes, particularly in reading, writing, and numeracy and, importantly, also seeks to address the underlying reasons for poor educational outcomes in these schools.

These include poorly functioning institutions, wasted teaching and learning time, school leadership who require support, teachers needing assistance with content knowledge and skills, as well as a lack of access to resources and teacher support material such as textbooks and workbooks.

One of the ways we see the programme working is by helping the schools to run more effectively so that the school has a solid “drumbeat” or routine.

From the time the school bell rings the children should be sitting at their desks and have started schooling for the day.

Once we have that rhythm, we can get the children through their entire syllabus by the end of the year. So just helping the school to run “like clockwork” or to a drumbeat is very important.

To do this the programme will support school management teams, governing bodies, principals, staff as well as parents.

There will also be a strong focus on helping teachers develop their content knowledge and teaching skills – how to teach reading for understanding, how to teach bigger classes, even how to teach children to draw, colour-in and learn numbers.

The programme aims to have:

• 90% of learners aged five meeting the minimum requirements for school readiness

• 90% of grade 3 learners passing with at least 50% in Numeracy and Literacy

• 75% of grade 6 learners passing with at least 50% in Mathematics and English First Additional Language

• 65% of grade 12 learners passing with at least 50% in Mathematics

• 90% matriculation pass rate in participating schools, with a 50% university entrance pass rate.

We are facing changing and fast-paced times as the world enters the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Our education system can no longer afford to lag. Now more than ever, we need to capacitate our learners with the skills to navigate the complex, yet exciting future that lies ahead. This can only be done if we first focus on getting the fundamentals right.

This programme, launched in the centennial year of Nelson Mandela, is our contribution to the important work that lies ahead of us as a nation.

We must do better than simply acknowledge the fundamental right of every child to a quality education. It is our collective responsibility to deliver it. Our future depends on it.

Mbazima is deputy chairperson of Anglo American South Africa

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