South Africa spends 5.4% of its GDP – or 16.9% of total government spending in 2009 – on education. This is more than most emerging- market countries can afford, yet still, we remain far behind a number of these countries in terms of educational performance.
Unicef estimates that in Zimbabwe, 10 children have to share a single textbook. But the country’s Grade 6s still score higher than South African pupils in both literacy and Maths. What does this tell us? Having worked for the Zimbabwean Ministry of Education from 1982 to 1992 and South Africa’s Department of Education from 2002 to 2007, Dr Martin Prew is uniquely qualified to explore. This is a summary of his comparison in the article, ‘Neighbourly lessons in education’, published in the Mail & Guardian in January 2012.
|Backstory||History of racial inequality and conflict that left the education system traumatised and unequal.||Similar and therefore highly comparable past to that of neighbouring Zim.|
|Pre-indepedence access||More limited access to schooling for black students before independence.||Considerably higher access for black school students before 1994.|
|Post-independence changes||Schooling system is left largely intact, with a focus on enhancing access by providing more schools, textbooks and teachers – including committed expats. The first major curriculum change come only in the late 1980s – until then, syllabus-based changes reinforce teachers’ knowledge.||Multiple changes to the curriculum and policy begin very soon after 1994. Many teachers experienced these as undermining and demoralising.|
|Teachers||Teaching force is expanded and new teacher colleges are established, both technical and academic. Overall, teachers are treated with respect and regarded as an important part of the revolution in progress.||Destablising changes have already undermined teachers’ confidence, knowledge and experience. The cadre of teachers is also reduced and many experienced teachers are encouraged to take voluntary severance packages.|
|Teacher training||In the 1980s, the Zintec experiment is designed to supply more much-needed primary-school teachers in the form of teacher “apprentices”. Still today, more than 50% of trainee primary teachers’ training is spent under supervision in school. Student teachers benefit with hands-on practice in real schools. The system also benefits as staffing gaps in rural schools can be filled by deployed student and newly qualified teachers.||Teachers’ colleges are closed and training is moved to resistant universities. This model lacks the practical advantages of that in Zimbabwe. Teacher training suffers and student teachers are not used to bolster the already less-serviced system.|
|Budget and management||The budget and resources are scarce, but the centralised management of schools means these resources are targeted and directed to where they are needed most – as are the teachers. This is a truly national education system.||Huge amounts of money and much government spend goes to the schooling system (see above), which is not national or centralised. Unions have a hold over teachers; decisions and information get stuck or filtered at provincial levels.|
|Result||Zimbabwe’s education system has healed past imbalances and continued to improve. Teachers and students continue to excel. The system is reactive, responsive and enforces teacher accountability through school inspection.||Although year-on-year improvements are seen, South African students flounder and trail in international comparability studies. Constant changes have destabilised the system. The historical trauma has been compounded,
not treated or cured.