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It has become depressingly emblematic of our dysfunctional society that, once again, there is a January crisis around school admissions.
This year, as millions of pupils return to class today, a shocking 400 000 are still waiting for the education department to find them places. And, in yet another unsurprising turn of events, it is Gauteng which is the province worst affected by the problem.
Why, though, is this still happening, after repeated promises every year that the online application system – once a horror-show – has now been fixed?
No doubt the excuses will come thick and fast – and already the education department factotums have started trying to lay some of the blame on the parents.
These inconsiderate people, the argument goes, want their children placed in schools near them, or want their kids taught in English, the language of communication for most of the planet.
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While it is apparent that the clunky application process could use some streamlining (to be kind), the annual mess over scholars not finding places is also symptomatic of the greater disease afflicting education.
Educational researchers estimate that 80% of our state schools are dysfunctional – from lack of professional care by teachers, lawlessness on the part of pupils or plain neglect of infrastructure by the authorities.
Activists point out that of every 100 children who go into Grade 1, just 14 make it to university… and even then, most of them fail to complete their degrees.
International research has shown, too, that, in our primary schools, the vast majority of pupils cannot read for meaning at the age of nine… a deficit which impacts on the rest of their school lives.
But, no doubt, the department will shortly be patting itself on the back for the matric results.
We have to stop fooling ourselves. Our schools are in crisis.