Rural schools in South Africa are among the worst in the country.
DESPITE South Africa’s position as the continent’s largest economy, its public education system is not.
Inside the yard of the Alapha Secondary School in the country’s Limpopo province, stray donkeys roam between two classroom blocks.
Windows are broken and the stench emanating from the pit latrines hangs thick in the air. There is little shade or airconditioning to offer respite from the brutal heat.
Academically, things don’t get much better.
At the end of the 2012 school year, not one of the school’s 20 pupils sitting their final high school exams passed.
Like many rural schools across the country, Alapha magnifies the failings of the country’s public education system, which has been ranked among the worst in the world.
Despite education receiving the largest share of the national budget, Alapha has no library and no lab equipment to teach subjects like physics, chemistry or biology.
Mismanagement also plays its role in the lack of teaching aids.
Limpopo was the province most severely hit by the government’s recent failure to supply textbooks for an entire academic year.
“We just listen and visualise,” said Desiree Mathekga, one of the 30 learners who is keen on tackling her final exams this year.
“It is difficult, but this is all we have, we just have to study hard with what we have.”
Limpopo education department spokesman Pat Kgomo admits Alapha’s situation is “cause for concern, but not unique”.
Four other schools in the province are in a similar predicament.
The government blames part of the problem on its inability to attract teachers, despite a 25% unemployment rate.
“Schools in rural areas tend to perform badly because few teachers are willing to work in far-flung areas,” said Kgomo.
School principal Jonas Ramapuputla said teachers who are there, are overworked.
“As school head, I have very little time to manage the school, I have to roll up my sleeves and teach,” he said.
All this takes its toll.
The World Economic Forum recently ranked South Africa the second last in the world for Mathematics and Science education, just ahead of Yemen.
The central government has acknowledged that “the quality of school education for black people is poor” across the country.
Turning that around has been listed as one of nine key challenges on the path to overhauling the economy.
Experts say the government will have to overcome years of under-investment in black education under apartheid.
But 20 years after the end of white rule, progress remains slow, and many say the ruling government’s unwillingness to take on allies in the teaching unions is part of the problem.
So too is in the vicious circle where poor education leads to poorly qualified teachers.
Student Desiree Mathekga, undeterred by her school’s dismal pass rate is determined to go to university next year and pursue a commerce degree.
She wants to become an accountant.
“I want to make my school and village proud of me,” said the petite 17-year-old.
Ramapuputla wants to make sure that his student has all the opportunities to do so.
He has decided to do away with the national norm of preventing failing pupils from repeating exams, by giving them a second chance.
“These children have nowhere else to go and it is only with education that they can move up,” added Ramapuputla. — AFP
SIBONGILE KHUMALO The STAR Online Education 28/07/2013