By Nomali Cele
It’s safe to assume that we are all in agreement in the thinking that education is the first step to changing society and making it more equal. As equal as capitalist aspiration can make a society equal, anyway. The question, upon this agreement, then becomes how do we make the standard of education better? How do we keep more young people in school for longer? How do we make higher learning affordable? In this country, there are commissions trying to answer those questions, whether the answers will be helpful, remains to be seen.
In the meantime, there are other areas of focus we need to be investigating and shifting towards if education in Africa is to be on par with the what the future will likely hold.
The fight for languages in schools has been raging since the 1970s in South Africa. It’s the reason the Soweto Uprisings happened. The fight for language inclusion was the reason for the 2015 protests at Stellenbosch University. In a multilingual context like ours, the language will always be an important part of the education conversation.
The department of basic education announced in 2015 its intention to start offering Mandarin as a subject in its schools. Many other foreign languages are taught in South African schools but the introduction of Mandarin was sold as “looking to the future.”
The Role of STEM
Maths and science matter as subjects, this is particularly important in the African context because we’re a developing continent. There’s a lot to build and if we are to build a better world for ourselves as a continent, we need to have the skills to get it done ourselves. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (collectively called STEM) are important subjects, areas of study and necessary skills for a developing world.
According to a 2015 World Economic Forum report, “most STEM jobs are performed by or outsourced to multinationals from China, India and the US” in Africa. STEM subjects don’t just give us effective doctors and scientists but they also give us skilled engineers.
Fees and access
Private education fees wouldn’t matter much if education was equal across quantiles. In 2016, City Press published a report saying that the parents of a child that starts school in 2016 and leaves matric in 2028, would pay about R3.7 million in private school fees, stationery, uniform and boarding costs.
And after high school, the parents who could afford to pay for their children’s education in the millions will pay some more for university. What is meant to happen to the students whose parents cannot afford to pay for university? The Fees Commission has been investigating the matter.
The question of data prices falling has recently come up, once again. As usual, the debate arose in the context of personal consumption, which should be the least of our worries.
At the beginning of 2015, the department of basic education in Gauteng piloted The Big Switch On, which was phase one of moving the department toward “paperless education.” Upon launch, schools were kitted out with smart boards and tablets, which would make learning and teaching much easier. The tablets, especially, were meant to counter the country’s textbook and study materials scarcity.
However, African education cannot realistically go digital if there are still barriers such as limited or no access to electricity – or its sustainable equivalents – and high data costs. The cloud cannot revolutionarise African education when most Africa students cannot access it. Again, there’s an opportunity for several Africa-designed solutions to fill the gap.
What do you think is the future of education in Africa?