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Education system sets learners up for failure

- Wits University

Companies see matric certificates as applicant’s ability to read, write and be trained, research shows.

The South African education system is setting up whole generations of school-leavers to fail by poorly equipping them to study in a second language.

Volker Schöer, a statistical economist in the Wits School of Economics and Business Sciences, is currently studying how the labour market selects candidates from masses of unschooled job-seekers in the country.

“If we think that education is supposed to allow access to the labour market and that education influences what employers think about candidates and how jobs are allocated, then we need to understand more about how firms select candidates, how they use social networks to select and what they require,” says Schöer.

Schöer found that whether a person has one year of education or 11 years, they are seen in completely the same light if they don’t have a matric certificate.

“Companies see it that a matric certificate shows that a person can read and write and can be trained but that a person without it stands no chance,” says Schöer.

In his efforts to study the shortfalls of the education system, Schöer teamed up with Prof. Brahm Fleisch from the Wits School of Education and tested first -year students at Wits on both their mathematical and language abilities.

“There was a massive difference between English first language students and those who use it as a second language. In maths, students who used English as a second language also had a problem.

“They were very good with procedural problems but struggled when they needed to take a problem one step further,” he elaborates.

Schöer and Fleisch also tested around 2 500 grade four pupils from 100 average performing schools, according to the Annual National Assessments (ANA), to test their English language competencies as second language speakers, with the hope of introducing an educational intervention in that grade to fix the problem.

While children at these schools were just as eager to learn and please their teachers as in schools with better resources, the results were horrifying. Out of a total of 51 marks in an English language assessment which tests language competencies that the learners are supposed to have learned during the foundation phase (grade 1 to grade 3), the average mark of the grade four learners was nine marks, which was less than 20%.

“We found they are too far behind,” he says. “All the disadvantages start at grade one and build up throughout the schooling career. Our intervention was too weak to address these shortfalls in grade four. You have to start at grade one.”

The further learners advance in their schooling careers, the wider the gap becomes and by the time they leave school, companies are not interested in employing them.

“Right from the beginning, they are set up for failure and it is passed on year after year,” explains Schöer.

“The gap doesn’t shrink. It increases. Giving matric won’t solve the skills mismatch.  We need to see how we can improve the education system.”

Following this research, Fleisch has already set up an intervention programme with some of the worst performing schools in Gauteng. The North West Department of Education has implemented a similar programme and Limpopo will start an intervention programme next year.