The Jewish Report Editorial

Guidelines from the Jewish handbook

  • Vanessa
In the last few weeks the media has been filled with stories of South Africa’s educational crises. Universities have been plagued with protests and the 2015 matric results were dismal. Of the 799 306 candidates who wrote, only 166 263 qualified for university entrance and there was a five per cent drop in the National Senior Certificate matric pass rate from last year.
by VANESSA VALKIN | Jan 20, 2016

The reasons behind the troubled school system are numerous: from insufficiently qualified teachers who are often absent, to overcrowded classrooms and a shortage of desks and textbooks.

Disadvantaged learners come from homes without adequate food, electricity, running water or space to study. Only about half the population that begin school reach matric and most fall through the cracks between grades 10 and 12.

At the tertiary level, students face a chaotic 2016 as the #FeesMustFall campaign has already disrupted registration proceedings at campuses across the country. While some of the universities have this week secured interdicts against protests, allowing them to call police onto campus to quell demonstrations, it’s a long, rocky road ahead.  

Against this backdrop of a system in crisis is our own privileged community’s continued academic excellence. Our children generally attend schools that offer caring, motivated and highly qualified teachers; warm social communities; a range of extramurals; myriad opportunities for pupils to excel and financial assistance to those who cannot afford the fees. The Jewish day schools usually boast 100 per cent pass rates with almost all learners qualifying for university entrance. 

And at university, while protests may disrupt student life somewhat, our learners do not face the same issues of affordability or an insufficient educational grounding to cope with the degree requirements. 

There is sometimes a perception that Jews are just naturally clever. But the reason for our academic success is more likely due to our ancient culture and, may I say, obsession with learning. It has been a key to our survival over many centuries of being immigrant minorities in strange lands where we only had our smarts and education to depend on. 

This is perhaps why Jewish parents out there reading this, and I, a Jewish mother writing this, wait anxiously outside school during the first few days of grade one or any grade for that matter, looking into the faces of our little ones for signs of distress. 

The worry can escalate to panic when we hear from teachers that our children are not concentrating or performing as expected, and we will spend enough to pay off a house on assessments and therapists. As they approach grade 12, we groom them with extra lessons and private tutors to ensure they achieve their academic potential. 

How different is that to the experience of the average South African learner whose mother and father are both likely to be working just to afford a roof over their heads. In this maelstrom of just trying to survive, it’s not surprising that a child’s daily hurts or how she/he might be feeling about a teacher, are not taken into consideration.

University of the Free State Vice Chancellor Jonathan Jansen who writes frequently on education, recently offered 10 ways he would improve the South African education system if he was “minister of schools (new title)”. 

Among his excellent recommendations were: a greater investment in pre-school education programmes; firing all deployed officials in the districts and offering them to re-apply on the basis of proven competence; rooting out corruption in teacher and head appointments; ensuring every child has a textbook in every subject within three months, or “somebody loses his job”; raising teacher salaries on the single criterion that the children show steady increases in achievement scores; and the importance of teachers showing up every day unless a viable medical certificate is produced. 

Jansen also suggests that no teacher be hired with less than a master’s degree by 2018 and should be remunerated accordingly. Highly qualified teachers are a vital aspect on our “road to recovery” - particularly talented headmasters who inspire and encourage both pupils and teachers. 

Consider, for example, the resumé of the newly-appointed campus principal of King David Victory Park High, mentioned on 16 of this paper versus the depressing stories of government school principals fired for fraud or embezzlement or even a recent headmaster fired for rape at a Model C school near Bloemfontein.

I would also add in some “guidelines from the Jewish parents’ handbook”. All South African parents should try, still, even if they cannot read themselves, are financially distressed, or working far away, to focus in on their children’s education, and emotional health.

Jews have historically done it for their children under threat of persecution. In a country like South Africa that is relatively free and increasingly trying to be fair, every parent, no matter how difficult the circumstances, should be interested in their children’s school work; talk to them constantly and know what they are experiencing. Parents need to nurture their children’s self-esteem, their competencies, their interests and their dreams. 

Could some of these suggestions from the experts, which have nourished our own community’s academic success and indeed our survival, ensure a positive way forward for South Africa too? 


1 Comment

  1. 1 Adi 02 May
    This is cool!


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