Our Failing Education System

Back when I was in high school I wanted to become a high school teacher. When I got to varsity it took only 2 years for me to change my mind; and want to be a varsity lecturer. Now I am working, and Instead of changing, I now urge those with a passion for education to join the cause and do something for our ‘failing’ education system. I like detail and statistics, but our education system needs no mention of statistics for us to acknowledge that it is failing us. Through many years of observation I believe it is caused by two gross inefficiencies.

  1. Ignorance
  2. Lack of resources

Now I know that nobody likes being called ignorant, so I will try my best to justify the first point more than the latter.


In this case I define ignorance as the following:

  • Ignorance as defined in a dictionary
  • Ignoring some-thing’s faults  because it is too much effort to change it
  • Ignorance caused by laziness, from our side as learners, and our parents to an extent

In the years that I was at school, I only spent 3 years in private school. That was from Grade 4 to Grade 6. The school was a ‘scam’, utterly disorganised and quite dodge. The other 9 I spent in public schools (6 schools to be exact, 5 in North West and 1 in Gauteng). In the early years in the North West, I loved our education system. The teachers disciplined us, learners weren’t lazy (or you got a good hiding). The system was generally efficient, and in most instances if one complained of not getting good education it was due to their ignorance or a general lack of resources in their school. The main problem (for our generation at least) came about when Outcome Based Education (OBE) was introduced. I recall the perception that teachers had towards it, we labeled it a ‘Pass One Pass All‘ system. Why? Perhaps because it was in its trial phase, and I recall in my Grade 8 everyone passed [except for the two kids who missed class more than we miss deadlines nowadays]. The ignorance came about from our Government by thinking that such an alien system would work for us whilst it failed to work in First World countries (read more). Subsequent to OBE being phased in, general talk among concerned educators (I was in high school then) was that the new system was making learners lazier, coupled with that some educators were intimidated by this new ‘thing’. It was noticeable, and more so when corporal punishment was being condemned by the State. More pupils/learners came in with home-work not being done, or attempts were made in the mornings. The lack of accountability by us learners drove our averages down. School was meant to be a place of regular/continuous learning and teaching. However that was not how I personally experienced it. Throughout Grades 8-9 we had no English classes, yet we had a few capable staff members (in defense, one was overstaffed). I do not know exactly why that was so, but I blame the school’s ignorance. The point is not to bring about every instance of ‘ignorance’, but was to justify ignorance as I had stated above.

Lack of resources

There’s not enough money to pay teachers, hence they strike almost every year.

It is sad that the most vital occupations in our country are the most under-staffed, underpaid, and sometimes under-qualified. I’ve had a love for educating since as early as I could remember. In Grade 10 I went to a school in Rustenburg. We had only one Accounting teacher (for Grades 10 – 12), who was also heavily involved in the governance of the school. There were times when she had to miss class because of crises or meetings. That was when my informal career really took off. By April I had learnt most of the syllabus on my own, so I started filing in for her [limited to giving classes only]. I got to feel some of the frustrations. We did not have enough books, those handed down on us were sometimes heavily vandalised. At the end of the day public servants  also have families to feed. In the passed years we saw many great teachers leaving education because they were underpaid and over-stressed. Most who still stay also still complain. In my last high school, a public school in a township in west Gauteng; sadly most learners who ended there were  those of parents who could not afford expensive schooling. A good percentage of the school was filled with overage learners who had given up on studying, and were rather at school to frustrate teachers and cause havoc. I survived the bullying by Grace, and sharing my home-work (until I made enough friends).

The root of the problem lies in the roots

Objectively, our country still faces a lot of challenges at a primary education level. Our primary schools seem to be ones suffering the most, and with that it is expected that the secondary level inherit the problems from below. Our general literacy is going down; in our days, I recall that most of us could read at least 2 languages fluently by ages 6-8 (that depends on the individual). I have tutored a great deal when I was in high school, and from empirical observation, this age has increased to 9-13 (public school pupils only). I wish I was a researcher that I could prove that I am not throwing around numbers, pity I am not. Basic education has really deteriorated partially because our parents are not much involved in our learning. Simple deficiencies go unnoticed, because they have more pressing matters to deal with: such as putting food on the table. The number of broken families have greatly contributed in my opinion. Teenage pregnancies have left irresponsible mothers who never sought their own education, how much more will they pay attention to their offspring’s? [I am in no way generalising, plese do not take offense]. Even in high school there are still the ‘root’ problems. Teachers focus on Grade 11 and Grade 12 learners because that’s where the statistics matter, yet this is all at the peril of lower grades, which later become the Grade 11’s and 12’s.

Death of Mathematics

Who ever thought of introducing Maths Literacy? There’s now ‘pure’ Maths and Maths Literacy.

Imagine a Matriculant  writing 1 + 1 in an examination., That’s essentially how we view Maths Literacy.

My high school last year performed dismally in Maths and Accounting, Science … Wait a minute, everything! Most people held that it was because that the most fascinating thing ever has been killed. My little cousin (13 years old, my guinea pig) was terrible at Maths two years ago, yet you could not cheat him with money. After I moved back home, he has improved. It was not because that he grew older and started understanding things better, but it is because that I tried instilling a new way of thinking, that Mathematics is part of everyday life as money is.

More and more learners can’t go to varsity because their Maths results are appalling. I used to tutor in varsity. In 2009 we tutored first year Accounting, oh what tragedies we saw during tutorials. That is why the government ends up pushing varsities to lower standards. How long will this continue? We will forever be short specifically of ‘black’ actuaries, engineers, mathematicians, good accountants etc. Ask most engineering students around, and they’ll tell you that it is normal to complete a 4 year degree over 5, 6 or 7 years.

Our education system is failing us. We as the future lecturers, teachers and leaders need to start doing something about it now before it is too late.

What can we do?

Besides for recent months, I used to devote as much time as possible to tutoring. I did it formally with the varsity and informally with friends  in need. I had an open-door policy at res. Anyone could come ask me something.
Those were some very small contributions, yet veryu helpful to many people. There’s so much that we van do, knowledge was meant to be shared.

We can:

  • Volunteer at a local school to tutor. Don’t make money the motivation, but hopefully parents will open their hearts and give you something.
  • At varsity? Is there a tutoring position open? Take it up, best thing ever!
  • Visit schools, be a motivational speaker.
  • Have a passion for teaching? Consider teaching as a career. I agree not everyone finds it attractive, but out of a hundred people someone has to choose it. It might just be you.
  • Initiate community projects, raise funds for needy schools. Got a printer you’re not using? Give it to a needy school, even if it will be used for admin purposes.

There’s a lot we can do, “the harvest is plenty but the workers are few.”


 My greatest passion is to someday be a varsity lecturer. I am serving my articles at an Accounting Firm, and honestly; once I have decent experience I wish to leave and enter academia.

  • collen serapress

    how can the education system improve whilst being led by uneducated people? The government is rotten, its useless and it does not care much about the education level and the quality therof. It seems that they have forgotten that educational level is one of the vital tools used to measure the country’s economic development…. ”ignorance” again.

    • Neville

      I agree Collen. I sincere how things will be 10 years from now. Unemployment going up, literacy rates going down … Maybe the government will just decrease the passing requirements again

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