A LEADING academic has warned that education in South Africa is doomed in the next five to 10 years unless drastic action is taken by the government.

Professor Brian O’Connell, rector and vice-chancellor of the University of the Western Cape, issued the warning while addressing more than 200 Port Elizabeth principals and teachers as part of a South African Principals Association (SAPA) presentation at Victoria Park Grey Primary School recently.

SAPA is the only professional body for principals in South Africa.

O’Connell said the situation in South Africa currently was that there was no strong modern learning culture and that this was the result of the country’s political turmoil before democracy.

He explained a major part of the anti-apartheid struggle was the fight for quality education, but that politics was placed first and learning cast aside.

The result of this was the downfall of a learning culture in schools. He said instead of building such a culture after 1994 the situation had only deteriorated over the last 16 years, and now South African education was in a situation in which it would be “doomed” unless drastic action was taken.

He said the only way forward was for teachers, pupils, parents and communities to respond to the “knowledge challenge” and improve the situation through commitment and enthusiasm.

Education was the foundation of whatever kind of development or progress a country wanted to pursue.

Statistics showed compared to the rest of the world, Africa was lacking in almost every knowledge indicator, including the number of children who received primary education and made it to secondary education and even tertiary education, as well as science research, new patents and books borrowed.

O’Connell said the Japanese’s proficiency in mathematics, was not because their nation had been given a special talent, but because their teachers were committed and they had a culture which did not allow disrespect and poor school attendance.

Eastern Cape education specialists agreed education could be doomed within the next few years without intervention. “The extraordinary apathetic attitude to schooling from the teachers in so many schools in the townships and rural areas in the Eastern Cape is a classic expression of a total lack of a learning culture.”

East London-based educationalist Ken Alston said: “The tragedy is what appears to be developing is a ‘handout mentality’ which is even pervading education – the type of ‘I have a right to a pass’ attitude” .

He pointed to the huge absenteeism as particularly problematic. “And it is not just the pupils, but also the teachers. There is also too much spoon-feeding and too little demand for pupils to do the necessary reading themselves. This is a sure sign of a country with serious problems in maintaining let alone improving its knowledge base.”

Edmund van Vuuren, DA spokesman for education, said the main interventions needed were ridding the department of incompetent officials, commitment from parents and teachers and accountability in the classrooms.

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