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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 10, No. 19, 21 September 2011

In this Issue:


Red Alert

The working class and the transformation of South African education

Dr Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary

Our Alliance has correctly decided, amongst other things, to collectively intensify the struggle for the transformation of our education system. The SACP has decided to take up this struggle also as part of its 2011 Red October campaign. For the SACP improving our education system is, and has always been, in the deepest interests of the working class.

After all, the overwhelming majority of pupils in our schools today, are children of the workers and the poor in our country. Therefore the intensification of the struggle for radically improving our education system is in the deepest interests of the working class.

In taking up the struggle for educational transformation we must seek to build on the many advances made by the ANC-led government on this front since 1994. South Africa has for instance already reached the millennium development goals in terms of high levels of enrolment in primary schools (which currently stands at above 95%).

Amongst others, we must also seek to build upon the much-improved matriculation results of 2010. But it is important that in throwing its full weight behind the Alliance campaign, the SACP structures must focus on pass rates and quality throughout the schooling system. Often the matriculation results are a reflection of the quality of education offered in the foundation or earlier phases. It is for this reason that the SACP must not only focus on secondary schools, but must ensure that our primary school education is strengthened, and that these schools are functional, and that mother-tongue education is strengthened at foundation levels. Unfortunately public and media focus has elevated attention only to matriculation and its results, thus relegating primary school education into obscurity.

Just as our attention on schooling has been mainly focused on secondary education, so has the focus on post-school education and training focused mainly on universities at the expense of the importance of vocational education in particular, and college education in general. We need to break the stereotype that post-school education and training only implies going to university. Whilst we still need to substantially increase access to universities, especially for black students, this must not detract from the need to significantly expand intake of our youth into the Further Education and Training colleges in particular.

Indeed the SACP campaigning on the post-school education and training front must build on progress made by government. For instance, we now have more than 60% of university students being black, the majority of whom are women. In addition government has doubled its investment into the National Student Financial Aid Scheme between last year and 2011, with this assistance now reaching about R5,5 billion! For the first time all poor students doing trade and occupationally directed programmes in our FET colleges are now exempted from paying any fees. Final year students at universities, as from this year, are receiving full fees as loans, but to be converted to full bursaries if the successfully complete their diplomas and degrees.

However, like many of our schools, a number of our 50 FET colleges are either dysfunctional or offering poor quality programmes. It is therefore important for our SACP structures to pay particular attention to the strengthening of our FET college sector.

Within the context of our Alliance campaign on education, it is therefore imperative that the SACP focus on the three areas: the functioning of our primary schools, strengthening the FET colleges, and curriculum transformation.

Transforming and strengthening of our post-school education and training system

Millions of our young people, especially those between the ages of 18 and 24 are not in education, employment or training. In 2007 this figure was estimated to just under 3 million, out of a total population of 18-24 year olds of 6,7 million. This is indeed a ticking time bomb and requires focused attention by the working class. These young people are also the children of South Africa's working class. These millions of young people who are no longer at school simply cannot be absorbed only by our universities for many reasons. Firstly it is estimated that one third of our 18-24 year olds have less than Grade 9 education. Secondly, even those who have done matric have not attained the minimum entrance requirements for university. Thirdly, our university system does not have capacity to absorb even those who have minimum entry requirements. (See table below from the research commissioned by the Ford Foundation)

It is for the above and other reasons that a key challenge of our revolution is that of rapidly expanding post-school education and training to absorb millions of our young people. This is even more urgent given the huge skills shortage in our economy.

Post-school education and training is not the same as post-matric education. This is because not all youth who are out of school have done matric. In fact there is a disturbingly high drop out rate amongst our youth after Grade 9. This further underlines the need for expansion of post-school education and training principally through colleges rather than universities.

It is imperative that our Alliance fully exploits government's commitment to expanding the FET colleges as a crucial component of our education campaign. This would require that we ensure that these colleges are functional, provide quality education and training, and to intensify the struggle against corruption.

The progressive labour movement, especially COSATU, also has a particularly important role to play in ensuring that employers in both the public and private sector absorb young people for learnerships and internships. In doing so, it is also important that such opportunities for young people in the work-place are not turned into cheap labour to replace permanently employed workers. COSATU has to strengthen its structures and build its capacity to drive skills development for the benefit of the working class as a whole. Every workplace must become a training space! COSATU therefore has a particularly important role to play in the building and expansion of post-school education and training. This is an important component of building working class power in the workplace!

One of the devastating effects of the commercialization and past attempts to privatise state owned enterprises (SoEs) have been the running down of the training budgets and capacity of these entities. Part of the transformation and repositioning of the SoEs must centrally involve the re-building of the capacities of these entities to train.

Concrete activism for educational transformation

The SACP, in its participation in the Alliance education programme of action, needs to identify, in each and every district, all dysfunctional schools and engage the school governing bodies, communities and our ally, the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) to make sure that our schools are functional. As pointed out earlier, focus must not only be on secondary schools, but on our primary schools. Every branch and district of the Party must engage with all schools in their localities.

Similarly, our SACP structures must seek to engage and develop relations with all the 50 FET colleges, and come closer to their governing structures. In such engagements it is also critical that our COSATU public sector unions must also ensure that the public service is opened as a training space, in order to give the vital first-time work experience to out of school youth.

An even bigger struggle needs to be waged to ensure curriculum transformation in all of our educational institutions. There are a number of dimensions in the struggle for curriculum transformation. Firstly, we need to increase the use of African languages throughout our education system, and aim to develop these as languages of science and academia. A broader social awareness campaign must be waged in our communities about the importance of African languages and that the necessity to master the English language must not be a substitute for use and strengthening of African languages in our schooling system.

Our curriculum must also strongly factor in, and unapologetically promote the teaching of the history of our national liberation struggle and the role of the liberation movement in the struggle against apartheid.

Curriculum transformation in our higher education system must seek to roll back the dominance of (neo) liberal discourses. Most of our social science curricula has been captured by these neo-liberal discourses and unfortunately some of our institutions and centres located at our universities have become nothing more than ideological instruments to advance a liberal agenda, often in an oppositionist fashion to government and its transformation agenda.

Therefore as part of our education campaign, the SACP must seek to deepen its work amongst the progressive student formations to strengthen their capacity to campaign for more progressive curricula in line with our overall developmental objectives.

In all of our campaigns for education transformation, our Young Communist League has a particular role to play, and should in fact lead on many of these fronts.