South Africa does not have enough resources to meet growing demands like the eradication of pit toilets, Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga told Eusebius McKaiser last week during his 702 radio talk show.
“What we need now is money,” said Motshekga.
Motshekga was speaking in a wide-ranging interview on the state of South Africa’s education system that traversed a number of issues including the education department’s move to make history a compulsory subject, the teacher-pupil ratio, violence in schools, and structural inequalities.
Motshekga told McKaiser that the education department will need R10-billion in order to fix the problem of pit toilets in rural schools. The minister has spoken about the department’s monetary constraints before and she emphasised the department’s difficulty to provide service delivery in her budget vote speech on May 9.
When it was pointed out by McKaiser that South Africa’s per capita spending on education is one of the highest in the world, Motshekga said South Africa was a developing country: “While we have to redress past inequalities, we have to cope with the current [situation].”
Despite not having enough resources, Motshekga said the department has focussed on teaching in township and rural schools for the last few years, which has led to “good passes”.
She added that the rollout of information technologies has been focused on township schools to “reduce the gap between the poor and the non-poor”.
“We are moving from a very low base, but we are moving in the right direction,” Motshekga told McKaiser.
History as a compulsory subject
Last week, a department of education task team announced that it had recommended that history should be a compulsory subject from 2023. However, the recommendation needs to be debated in public.
During her interview with McKaiser, Motshekga said the notion that history should be compulsory emerged during talks in 2012.
“Every child [should] be exposed to history as it is being conceptualised” because, Motshekga said, “history is about identity and nationhood”.
Some of the recommendations that have been made to emphasise the importance of history would be to make the subject compulsory from grades 10 to 12 to separating history from geography in the social sciences in order to give teachers more time to teach history thoroughly.
Another recommendation would be to strengthen the teaching of history up to Grade nine.
According to Motshekga, history teaches the skills that are necessary for well-rounded individuals, like critical thinking and analysis, as well as identity, which makes it important subject for all learners.
When McKaiser asked Motshekga if making history was a strategic investment for South Africa, she answered that no subject was more or less important. However, she said that history was more strategic: “You want your kids to know who they are in relation to their peers.”
“I think at a national level, we stand to gain a lot if we have a better understanding of who we are and how we relate to the world,” Motshekga told McKaiser.
Motshekga said that she and her department have been “for the past week”, debating how schools will get information regarding teachers who have been charged with, or dismissed on the grounds of, sexual abuse.
“It is very disturbing,” said Motshekga.
According to Motshekga, all teachers should have been vetted for a criminal record and that would prevent them from finding teaching positions in other schools. However, Motshekga said, the problem lies with teachers who had enough evidence to dismiss them from a teaching post, but not enough evidence to charge them with a criminal offence.
There is a hope, Motshekga said, that schools will log the details of dismissed sexual predators to keep them from teaching.
45 pupils to a teacher — government standard
Despite criticisms that classroom sizes are too big, Motshekga said that the government ratio is 45 pupils to one teacher in a primary school with 35 pupils to a teacher in high school. This ratio, Motshekga said, is used by the government to fund schools and provide resources.
Although this is the legal ratio of pupil to teacher, she said that discrepancies were found in township schools. In Soweto, she said, the average teacher-student ratio is low with 35 pupils to a teacher. But in a growing area like Ivory Park, Motshekga said, there could be roughly 60 pupils to a teacher in a classroom.
Some schools have so few students that they face closure, said Motshekga, adding that parents “vote with their feet”. On the other hand, Motshekga added, schools were “overcrowded” because they were “very popular”. – MG