‘Class has replaced race as a barrier to education of majority’

Former deputy minister of education Mosibudi Mangena has lamented that under the democratic government, class has replaced race when it comes to access to quality basic education.

Mangena was speaking at the memorial lecture in honour of former interim president of the Black People’s Convention, Reverend Mashwabada “Castro” Mayathula, held at St Hilda’s Church in Senaoane, Soweto ahead of the 30-year anniversary of the first democratic elections.

In the lecture titled “The State of Education in South Africa with a Focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM),” Mangena said that pre-democracy, the quality of education children received was determined almost completely by race, while under democracy, class is a strong determinant.

Mangena, who was the minister of science and technology from 2004 to 2009, said that when research says that South African children in the foundation phase cannot read for meaning, what it really means is that black children cannot read for meaning in any language.

“If you can’t read for meaning, you can’t successfully do -mathematics. If you can’t do mathematics successfully, you can’t do science, technology or engineering. Adequate mastery of mathematics is key to the mastery of every branch of the natural sciences,” he told guests, pupils and teachers.

“Mathematics attainment is an indicator of participation and reasonable attainment in the rest of STEM,” said Mangena who has an MSc in applied maths.

He said South Africa was -neglecting to use education – the most potent weapon to tackle poverty, .

“Imagine where we would have been if, at the dawn of democracy in 1994, we had concentrated on educating the children of the poor. Would we still be described as the most unequal society in the world, ravaged by abject poverty and unemployment?

“Would we still be witnessing young men and women in good health queueing for the R350 grant every month?”

Mangena said without strides in education, particularly in STEM, South Africa would not be able to beneficiate its abundant and diverse mineral endowment, do reasonably good scientific research, innovation and development, and build a competitive economy.

“We will continue to just dig holes in the ground, take the minerals out, and export them to others to make advanced goods and services that we would import at great cost,” he said.

The former president of the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) said some of the things that the black government can do to change the state of education in townships and rural schools were to free itself from colonial and slave mentalities.

“When whites were in charge, they built educational facilities, from kindergartens to universities, complete with their ethos, languages and characteristics. But when we are in charge, all we do is fight tooth and nail to be accommodated in the schools and universities that the
English and Afrikaners built,” Mangena said.

He said the black intelligentsia was particularly guilty of abandoning the black child.

“In my capacity as deputy minister of education responsible for maths and science education between 2001 and 2004, I used to visit schools, especially in townships and villages, to nudge and encourage pupils to apply themselves hard in mathematics and science so that they might in the future become scientists and engineers that might, among other things, design and make South African cellphones or cars. The kids would laugh or giggle incredulously. They did not believe that they could do that. Our kids imbibe this inferiority complex from us, the adults,” he said.

He added that the government should provide enough early childhood development centres with properly qualified minders, educational toys and tools to ensure that the children are sufficiently stimulated.

“We must ensure that children at the early childhood development centres are well fed. It has been estimated that up to a third of South African children are physically and mentally stunted due to malnutrition,” he said.

Mangena said overcrowding in classrooms, especially at the foundation phase, must be eliminated and children should learn in their mother tongue.

He said schools needed science laboratories and well-stocked libraries with age-appropriate books in home languages.

“We should ensure that we have enough qualified and trained teachers in schools offering mathematics and science.”

He said the government cannot moan about the shortage of maths and science teachers when it oversees the budget.

“We must devise plans and embark on a programme to produce them,” Mangena said.

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