Mainstream Education Gets a Shake-up

As learners return to school on Wednesday, the attention once again falls on education in South Africa.

The country’s school system is facing a major shake-up, as it seeks to divide pupils into three streams: academic, technical occupational and technical vocational.

The director-general of the department of basic education Mathanzima Mweli, said the pupils would be channelled into one of the three streams based on their strengths and weaknesses.

Those channelled into the technical occupational stream would be able to leave school in matric and head straight for the workplace because they would have acquired skills to make them employable immediately.

The academic stream would remain as it was because the majority of the country’s schools were academic schools.

“As part of the technical occupational stream, 26 subjects will be included, which will include spray-painting, panel-beating, hairdressing, woodwork, glasswork, glazing, welding, upholstery, husbandry (farming) and many more,” said Mweli.

The technical vocational stream would include subjects such as engineering and technical drawing, which would benefit those pupils wishing to study trades after school, such as boilermaking and fitting and turning.

The department would plan the new system this year and it would kick off in 2017, when it would be piloted in 58 schools countrywide. These schools were already offering the subjects, but only to people with learning disabilities.

The department will introduce these technical occupations subjects at Grade 4 level. The department will naturally increase the number of schools offering the new subjects.

Mweli said the introduction of the new streams would dramatically reduce the failure, dropout and repetition rates. More often than not, he said, these were as a result of pupils who had been pushed into the academic stream when they should have been channelled elsewhere.

“The international dropout rate is 1%, on the African continent, including the Southern African Development Community region, it is about 5%. And South Africa is between 15.3% and 20%,”said Mweli.

Pushing all pupils into the academic stream is misplaced and puts pressure on universities, said Mweli, adding the country committed a “scandalous mistake” in 1994 by shutting down technical high schools or reducing their subjects from 16 to just four.

“Many things have been tried, some of which have taken us backwards.”

The second stream would be technical vocational, which would offer 12 subjects.

“These will be introduced in grades 11 and 12 this year,” said Mweli. “Electrical, mechanical and civil engineering will be the core subjects, with each of them having three sub-subjects. The learners will end up as boilermakers, fitters and turners, artisans, etc.”

According to the National Development Plan, South Africa needs to be producing 30 000 artisans every year by 2030. When the new system is finalised, the occupational and vocational streams would accommodate about 60% of pupils in the system.

The other 40% of the country’s pupil body would be placed in the academic stream, whose importance, he said, should not be downplayed.

However, according to Inclusive Education, the introduction of inclusive education should be made at an early stage in a child’s life. They argue that when it is introduced during the early child development phase, the child learns at his / her own pace according to his/her strengths and weaknesses. It embraces and accommodates the diversity of the learners.

Inclusive Education is a non-profit organisation that aims to promote and support the development of more inclusive practices in ordinary pre-schools and schools, and to foster increased support for children with learning disabilities, disabilities or other special needs.   

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