The Constitutional Right to Education
The Constitutional Right to Education
Adv Jacques du Preez
FW de Klerk Foundation
Everyone has a constitutional right to basic education, including basic adult education. This right, in turn, is the key to the enjoyment of numerous other rights, including human dignity and equality. Without education people cannot exercise their right to choose their trade, occupation or profession freely, and have only limited access to many other rights, including political rights and freedom of expression.
Education - including basic education - is universally accepted as a catalyst for economic and human growth, and also as a fundamental human right that impacts powerfully on a wide array of issues - from democracy, to political stability, to health. For example, each additional year of education for mothers in developing countries results in up to a 10% reduction in infant mortality rates.
The recent Limpopo textbook scandal is simply a symptom of a much wider malaise. The governmental investigation into the scandal - the ‘Metcalfe-report’ - found that the department had delivered only 15% of the books by 3 July 2012 - halfway into the academic year - contradicting the department’s claims that 98% had been delivered.
The education crisis is not the result of a lack of resources. In 2011 South Africa’s expenditure on education was 6% of GDP - which is high by international standards. In the 2012/13 financial year, education will account for almost R 207billion - or per capita expenditure of more than R 16 000 per annum for every learner and student in the country.
In an interview on 23 July 2012, President Jacob Zuma confirmed that education currently receives the largest slice of the budget and is at the apex of a number of national priorities.
Nevertheless, South Africa’s education system is in serious trouble. It is currently ranked 133rd out of 142 countries in the world by the World Economic Forum. Of the 1 055 397 children who entered the school system in 2000, only 496 593 (47%) wrote matric in 2011. Of these, only 348 117 (33% of those who started in 2000) passed matric. This means that two-thirds of the 2000 intake dropped out of school without receiving a proper education.
However, it is not only children who are leaving the education system. A 2011 study by the South African Council for Educators (SACE) found that 48% of practising teachers intended to migrate and 27% of student teachers were considering migrating upon graduation. The study found that the rate of teacher attrition currently exceeds the rate at which newly trained teachers are being produced. The reasons for teacher dissatisfaction included frequent changes in educational policies; poor management; increased workload; poor remuneration; reduction of leave; and implementation of outcomes-based education [OBE]).
The education system is also failing to achieve basic standards. In 2011, numeracy and literacy levels in Grades 3 and 6 were very low, with only 20% of Grade 3’s having adequate literacy skills; only 12% had appropriate numeracy skills; 12% of learners in Grade 6 had adequate grade-appropriate literacy skills and only 9% had satisfactory numeracy skills.
The quality of the National Senior Certificate (NSC) is also misleading. Although pass rates increased from 62,5% in 2008, to 70,2% in 2011, only 24,3% of successful candidates in 2011 qualified for admission to university for bachelor studies.
It should also be noted that candidates need to pass only three exams with more than 40% and another three with more than 30% (and a seventh subject with less than 30%), to be awarded their NSC certificates. This means that successful candidates often have only the most rudimentary understanding of the subjects that they have passed. So, for example, in 2010 only 35.3% of candidates achieved more than 40% in accountancy; only 30,9% did so in respect of mathematics and only 29.7% in physical sciences.
Candidates did considerably better in the easier Maths Literacy course - where 64,7% achieved more than 40% - while virtually everyone (98,8%) achieved more than 40% in Life Orientation. Nevertheless, the 2010 overall NSC pass rate of 67.8% must be weighed against the fact that, according to the National Planning Commission, only 15% achieved an average mark of 40 percent or more.
As a result universities are complaining that too many students are being allowed into university with NSC qualifications that simply have not prepared them adequately for tertiary studies.
Tertiary education in South Africa is also experiencing problems. Five universities had been placed under administration by 30 July this year. For the most part, this drastic action has been taken as a result of top-level mismanagement, financial mismanagement and abuse of council powers.
Education in South Africa is in crisis. The causes identified by the National Planning Commission include:
- the social environment, including single parent families, low literacy levels among parents, poor nutrition, violence and social fragmentation;
- poor curriculum design - and frequent changes to curricula;
- the role of the bureaucracy, school governing bodies and teachers unions;
- availability of learning and teaching material and the use of technology; and
- the language of tuition.
The main factor determining success or failure was, however, the quality of teachers and principals. Perhaps the most damning statistic presented by the NPC is that teachers in black schools teach an average of only 3.5 hours a day, compared with 6.5 hours a day in former white schools.
The stakes are very high: poor education lies at the root of most of South Africa’s problems - including unemployment; poverty and inequality. Without a dramatic improvement in education, the crevasses in South African society will continue to deepen.
Education is a debt that the present generation owes to future generations. It is also a fundamental constitutional duty of Government to provide all our children with decent education.
It was Nelson Mandela who once stated that education is the most powerful weapon one can use to change the world. It is perhaps ironic that children at Mahlatjane Primary School in the Limpopo village of GaMefe commemorated Mandela Day this year by cleaning their school’s gardens - because they did not have any textbooks.
Published in: FW de Klerk Foundation