Friday, September 11, 2009

An open letter to the minister of basic education

By Onkgopotse JJ Tabane

Pass rates by race proving you can't fix stupid

Dear Mme Angie,

I noticed that you waltzed into parliament late when President Zuma visited the house last week and spoke of the challenges facing our education system. I am sure you had a good reason other than Prof Jonathan Jansen’s widely publicised remarks and totally unjustified conclusion that you are a “lazy” minister. One would have hoped that your discounted, yet sporty Range Rover, would have made sure you arrive on time for boring meetings such as the gathering of members of parliament.

Any way, I was further baffled that even after arriving late and finding most MPs listening attentively to the president’s newly found revelations about what we have always known about our schooling system, you decided to have a chit-chat with your bench mate, the honourable “expensive wheels” Nzimande and commissar-general of the SACP, who’s also the minister of higher education.

Maybe you couldn’t wait for the president to finish stumbling through his answers before you could share with honourable Nzimande and update him about your top priority: to change the look and feel of the matric certificates. Everyone has been grappling with the obvious question of how this simple act of brilliance from your side will improve the quality of the matriculants who Nzimande has to deal with in the higher education sector where universities require more than just a pretty certificate to admit them.

Who knows maybe Nzimande explained to you in that cosy moment why he recently suggested that in fact matric is overrated and that universities make too much of that silly requirement of literacy. I can’t rule this out as it is in line with your often-stated position that Julius Malema should not have sleepless nights because of a mere piece of paper called a matric certificate. The same piece of paper that you are ironically spending so much of your time worrying about its look and feel.

But so much has happened since that afternoon where the president shared with the nation that our teachers are lazy — teaching only 3 instead of 6 hours and spending too much time chasing after young girls instead of teaching them. Last week. I am sure you are aware, the Institute of Race Relations released a survey which shows that only 21% of our schools have libraries. I am quite certain that in your punishing schedule of ensuring the printing of this beautiful matric certificate you will take some time to come up with a convincing project of how we are going to deal with this and what Dr Ellof said in parliament — that the students your system is producing are literally illiterate.

One of the critical issues that you will have to deal with is the discipline among teachers. To show up and arrive on time and concentrate on the work which the taxpayer is paying for. In this regard it will be more a case of do as I say and not as I do given your arriving late as you did in parliament the other day. Of course we can turn a blind eye to that but the Mail&Guardian made too much of the terrible spelling mistakes in your budget speech. That also is something you may want teachers not to do ie make the mistake of looking up to you. You have just acquired by a huge discount on a luxury car you really don’t need.

You have declared that we need to be grateful because you could have spent much more. Indeed we are. But more importantly the teachers who take away a few cents after deductions are also grateful. What baffles them is why you insist that schools, which can afford to do so, should not pay teachers more to retain them in the most appalling working conditions imaginable. School principals are now frightened to raise private-sector funds because provincial departments of education apparently view that with some scorn and then cut off budgets that were allocated to these schools from the fiscus.

The private sector eventually also runs out of steam and then — suffer little children. No laboratories, no library, no playground. As we speak there are thousands of mud schools and classes held under trees.

And so with all these tragic things facing our education system I sat in the parliamentary gallery and wondered where could you possibly have been when the representatives of the people were debating these issues for which you are responsible and handsomely rewarded.

  • Maybe you visited the printers to personally see to the progress of the new matric certificates.
  • Maybe you visited the train station to see to the delivery of your Range Rover.
  • Maybe you went to support Malema at the equality court.
  • Or registered with an adult basic education grammar class.
Anyway big up for Zuma for cracking the whip in your absence. I urge you to kindly request from Handsard a copy of what he said before you arrived. You will be pleased.

Yours Frankly,