Education needs a rethink

Bouwe van der Eems, Milnerton

Tabletalk published an article and a letter that dealt with the problem that the education system does not produce matriculants who can meet the demands of the modern world of the fourth industrial revolution (“Make good choices,” Tabletalk, January 9).

The article proposed that more emphasis should be placed on STEM subjects and a letter on the same page proposes beggars become car guards and parking attendants.

Although these proposals have some merit, they do not address the underlying cause of our education crisis, namely, a rigid regulatory environment that promotes inequality and does not allow civil society to innovate education solutions suitable for our dynamic society.

The outdated SA Schools Act of 1996 created an environment where the vast majority of children receive low quality basic education at dysfunctional public schools, and a growing number of children cannot be placed in schools at all. A few well-functioning former Model-C schools have long waiting lists and are predominantly only accessible to those who can afford to live in their feeder zones.

Only the rich can afford to use private schools, where the ministers also send their children.

One does not have to look far for an example of a regulatory environment that empowers civil society. The most successful industry in South Africa is the telecommunications industry. In 1994 only about 7.5% of the population had a fixed line phone and could only get it from the state monopoly Department of Post and Telecommunications. In contrast in 2018 even the beggar on the street has a mobile phone and can choose from a multitude of providers. This transformation was made possible by opening the playing field to all, and regulating all players, including state entities, by means of an independent regulatory authority.

A similar regulatory environment can do for education what it did for telecommunications — one that is not regulated by the monopoly of the Department of Basic Education (DBE). The department is both player and referee, and enforces an outdated rigid school-based education system on all players.

Education should be regulated by an independent regulator that allows a diversity of alternative educational approaches and forms. This can create an environment that will give the poorest of the poor access to quality education. It can also improve public schools by making them accountable to the independent regulator.

As alternative education flourishes, it will reduce pressure on the overloaded public schools.

As a liberalised telecommunications industry made telecommunications accessible to the beggar, a liberalised education industry can make quality education accessible to all.