The national Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, is likely to announce to the nation the results of 2021 matric examination on 20 January 2022.

It is expected that provinces will release the results a day later, on 21 January.

Many pretentious loudmouths will be frothing at the mouth, offering half-cooked opinions about the number of matric pupils who have passed.

If the numbers are better than last year, we will be treated to an overdose of pompous and arrogant self-assertion political chest-thumping.

Over the years, no one in the midst of heady celebrations and political self-glorification, has ever paused, even for a fleeting moment, to ask themselves some difficult and uncomfortable, yet important questions.

The first question that has always yearned for an honest answer is: does a high matric pass rate truly signify a thriving education system?

The second important question is: what is done for the pupils who fall through the cracks, year in and year out, and never make it to matric?

Even the so-called experts have never had the gumption to admit that the colossal disparity between the number of pupils who pass matric and those who fail to finish basic schooling is one of South Africa’s biggest failures.

There are glaring inequalities embedded in our education system. The fact that 27 years later, access to good education is the preserve of the moneyed few, is a serious indictment on South Africa. Fundamental equality compels the state to provide proper remedies for past disadvantages so that every child can equally enjoy the right and access to quality education.

Are those who shuffle, snail-paced, in the corridors of power, awake to the fact that failure to deal decisively with the challenges that plague our education system presents a real threat for the country’s socio-economic development?

Has it ever crossed the warped minds of those who hold political power that devoid of a sizeable educated and skilled citizenry, our country will forever stay trapped in high levels of poverty, widening inequality and ever-growing unemployment?

“The South African education system, characterised by crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms and relatively poor educational outcomes, is perpetuating inequality and, as a result, failing too many of its children, with the poor hardest hit,” according to a 2020 report published by Amnesty International, titled Broken and Unequal: The State of Education in South Africa.

The report, which specifically highlighted poor infrastructure in public schools, including sanitation, called on the South African government to urgently address a number of endemic failings in the system in order to guarantee the right to a decent education for every child.

“For South Africa to comply with both its own constitutional and international human rights obligations with respect to education, major change is needed urgently,” said Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa.

“The right to quality education includes having a school where pupils are safe to learn and have adequate infrastructure and facilities to do so, but our research has found that this is not the reality for many learners in the country.”

Broken and Unequal: The State of Education in South Africa specifies how “the education system continues to be dogged by stark inequalities and chronic underperformance that have deep roots in the legacy of apartheid, but which are also not being effectively tackled by the current government.”

It is deeply disheartening and painful that our democratic state still retains apartheid’s legacy of biased distribution of resources which persists to encumber the attainment of the right to quality basic education.

If you cast your mind back to some five decades ago, you will remember that the National Party regime spent almost ten times more on the education of a white child than on a black child.

If we were governed by people who had testicular fortitude, they would have long set right this injustice, which in earnest is an ethical, socio-economic and constitutional requirement.

I doubt if they really care about the damning view of the report, “that many schools and the communities they serve continue to live with the consequences of the political and economic decisions made during the apartheid era where people were segregated according to their skin colour, with schools serving white communities properly resourced. The result of this modern-day South Africa is that a child’s experience of education still very much depends on where they are born, how wealthy they are, and the colour of their skin”.

In 2016, Nurina Allly and Daniel McLaren wrote an article in, a part of it read: “The Constitutional Court has said that ‘education is the engine of any society’. It is the main way in which economically and socially marginalised adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities. The right to a basic education provides a way to realise the dignity, equality and freedom of every person. For this to happen, education should be of adequate quality.”

Between September 2019 and June 2020, Equal Education conducted research into overcrowding in nine Gauteng schools.

The findings showed that:

• Overcrowded classes were found in all nine schools

• Of all the classes assessed across the nine schools, 751 in total, 74% (557) of these have over 40 pupils.

• Seven of the nine schools have a classroom shortage.

• All nine schools are using classrooms too small for the number of learners they hold.

• 66% (69 of 105) of all classrooms measured are too small.

• Six of the nine schools have to make use of other spaces for teaching, even after mobile classrooms have been added.

• At least 65% (17 of 26) of a teachers interviewed are overworked based on their teaching schedules.

• Seven of the nine schools visited have an enrolment of at least 15% more learners than the original building was built to hold.

• Eight of the nine schools have too little furniture – 82% (86 of 105) of classrooms inspected have too little furniture.

• Seven out of the nine schools had at least 15% more learners than the building was designed to hold.

• 66% of the classroom buildings measured were too small for the number of learners that they held.

These monumental failures and the multiple deficiencies regarding basic education are in breach of government’s international human rights obligations, the Constitution and its own Minimum Norms and Standards for educational facilities.

In 2013, our government ratified these obligatory regulations compelling it to ensure that before the end of 2016 all schools would have access to clean water, proper sanitation and electricity – all unventilated pit toilets were to be replaced with safe and hygienic structures and schools built from unsuitable material, would be done away with. I am not even shocked by the government’s own admission that it has failed to meet these targets.

It is now a matter of urgency for the government to review and improve how money is allocated so as to attain quality education for all citizens and to dismantle the embedded inequality in the education system. So, as you celebrate and spew all kinds of opinions about the matric pass rate be aware that the frequent failure by government to tackle the education problems has dire consequences for the lives of millions of children and the future of this beautiful country.

Before I disappear into the distant horizon, I think it is important for me to quote from a 11 April 2011 ground-breaking judgment by Justice Nkabinde of the Constitutional Court: “It is important, for the purpose of this judgment, to understand the nature of the right to ‘a basic education’ under section 29(1)(a). Unlike some of the other socio-economic rights, this right is immediately realisable. There is no internal limitation requiring that the right be ‘progressively realised’ within ‘available resources’ subject to ‘reasonable legislative measures’.”

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