Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
We have all been shocked by the results of the Annual National Assessment Tests for literacy and numeracy in our schools. Literacy in Grade 3 stands at 35%, creeping up by only 3% by Grade 6. Numeracy is even lower, at only 28% in Grade 3.
But many commentators have asked why we are surprised and indeed even the Minister of Basic Education announced that the results merely confirm what we already know.
For years the IFP warned that the Outcomes Based Education system would fail our children. By now, an entire generation has been educated under a system that failed to equip them for a competitive labour market. In essence, we removed the first few rungs of a ladder that all must, and few can, climb.
Measured against the Revised National Curriculum Statement of 2002, our education system is not really failing. It's all about how the standard is set. Our education system seeks to create "a lifelong learner who is confident and independent, literate, numerate and multi-skilled, compassionate, with a respect for the environment and the ability to participate in society as a critical and active citizen." Ensuring that learners can "read, write, count and think" is but one among 16 strategies for creating the kind of learners we want. It is on par with strategies like, "Infusing the classroom with a culture of human rights", "Nurturing the new patriotism" and "Freeing the potential of girls as well as boys".
What does this philosophy look like when applied to the actual curriculum?
In the Assessment Standards for Grade 5 Mathematics, the phrase "human rights" appears four times. One assessment standard is that a learner must know the various ways of writing numbers in different cultures.
This is why we are not surprised by the poor literacy and numeracy results.
As the former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and Director of the World Bank, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, put it, "We have chosen the worst curriculum policy that you could ever imagine. Canada tried it, they dumped it. The UK, the Netherlands, and New Zealand tried it, they dumped it. But not us."
Until one year ago, when the Minister of Basic Education announced that OBE would be phased out. At the time, the stats told us that under the OBE system more than 5 million learners had left school unable to adequately read or write. The end of OBE was welcomed wholeheartedly.
Turning the results around, however, will take time. Time which, of course, we do not have; because for every under-educated learner who finds themselves unemployable, there is both a social and an economic cost.
The ruling Party is well aware that South Africa's youth are not avid readers. In their Concept Document for the ANC's centennial celebrations, taking place next year, they caution against producing publications that are "too wordy", "taking into account the reading habits of South African youth". Publications about the ANC must be "hip" and "imaginative", with lots of pictures.
Ours is the information age. It is virtually impossible to competently navigate the seas of social media, technology, current affairs and global communications, without knowing how to read. There is a wealth of information available to us, infinitely more than was accessible twenty or thirty years ago. I do wonder, though, how the inundation of information has affected the amount we read.
Do we read more or less than we used to? Has the time taken to read seven blog entries replaced the time taken to read a novel or an academic paper?
Research warns that young people are already overwhelmed by external stimuli, which has raised their stress levels and divided their attention.
It is, in essence, becoming harder and harder to keep the average reader's attention, because there is just so much else to read.
This is changing the focus of journalism, where entertainment value is usurping the throne of information value. It's not so much about keeping the readership informed, as it is about keeping the readership. I worry that this is affecting the quality of journalism, in the same way that the demands of "instant news" have.
It is certainly affecting the quality of political discourse. There is a sense of 'dumbing down' when one follows the level of political debate over the past few decades. In fact, that might be something the ANC should explore as it celebrates 100 years. How does the oration of Dr Pixley ka Isaka Seme compare with the string of gaffes emanating from some of our country's leaders?
I suspect that the idea of nationalization has been embraced by so many young ANC members because it has been explained to them in such overly simplistic terms that the facts are lost. Orators call it reductio ad absurdum.
Nevertheless, the ANC Youth League has passed a resolution supporting nationalization and COSATU's Central Committee has followed suit, endorsing nationalization through a resolution. On the basis of these resolutions, the time has come for South Africans to take a stand one way or another. Those of us who disagree and believe that nationalization is the road to perdition, should stand up and say so. I and my Party are taking that stand.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP