Today, we celebrate International Day of Education for the fourth year. The education systems around the world are being forced to deal with many global and local concerns such as systemic issues of inequality and other pre-existing educational issues.
On top of this, they’ve had to handle the devastating impact of the pandemic that has accelerated our time frame in which to act on these issues.
Should we fail to act before all these factors compound, education systems that are already crippled could see a total collapse due to the strain.
According to UNESCO we are now unavoidably faced with a generational choice: ‘Continue on an unsustainable path or radically change course.’
So, this International Day of Education aims to: ‘showcase the most important transformations that have to be nurtured to realise everyone’s fundamental right to education and build more sustainable, inclusive and peaceful futures. It will generate debate around how to strengthen education as a public endeavour and common good. As well as how to steer the digital transformation, support teachers, safeguard the planet and unlock the potential in every person to contribute to collective well-being and our shared home.’
Silas Pillay, director of Academics at The Love Trust, shares his view and insight into the current state of the education system in South Africa.
And, concerning these objectives, what is being done at a local level, what more could be done on a national level and his vision for everyone this International Day of Education.
The current state of South Africa’s education system in relation to the UNESCO objectives
Regarding how we learn, Pillay feels that South Africa still has a long way to go coming on par with inclusivity, especially in closing the digital divide. “On the issue of international trends towards education, transformation initiatives and inclusive education, South Africa is still playing catch up in comparison to countries that are taking many further strides in terms of access,” says Pillay.
“The pandemic has catapulted us into prioritising this as a country. The fact that eLearning and access through data provisioning devices is in the pipeline and on our radar, especially in public and rural schools, is encouraging. However, once again, we are marginalising basic education and ECD much to our peril.”
If we look at what we learn, Pillay believes more can be done to equip learners with the skill set required in the 21st century.
According to Pillay, when looking at our international counterparts and colleagues, South Africa needs to up its game. Especially in areas such as “agility, critical thinking, coding robotics, the green competencies highlighted by the UNESCO report such as environmental awareness, conservation and sustainability of our planet.”
Lastly, on closing the gap between higher education, training and employment in the job market, Pillay says that “we have a lot of catch-up to do addressing the unemployment rate, job creation, and poverty alleviation issues. Simply put, there are still far too many graduates without jobs, and obviously, Covid has exacerbated that gap even more.”
What changes in general society and their relationship towards education need to happen?
Pillay believes that rather than pointing the finger at who needs to take responsibility for this crisis, we need to take joint and several liabilities, from the bottom to the top.
“The key role players at the general society level are parents and the community and their involvement.” A paradigm shift needs to take place in terms of how education centres play their role in relationships and their awareness that they are providing a critical service.
“The parents’ involvement in education and gender equity issues needs to be highlighted. Gender-based violence and stereotyping of girl learners is rife in our communities. At a general society level, you can’t talk about education if these matters are not addressed at the domestic front and at schools.”
Pillay believes much can be done in tackling these issues that impact learning equality through community involvement and partnership with the schools and centres to uplift the community and reform strategies.
The private sectors can also help immensely by partnering with NPOs to make sure that money is channelled towards education. “Otherwise,” says Pillay, “we are just working in silos believing we’d be successful without addressing the bedrock of society, which is education.”
How is The Love Trust forging a new social contract for education in its community and beyond?
One of the aims of The Love Trust is to raise the plight of disadvantaged children, and adults as well, in low-income environments. “Hence,” says Pillay, “our flagship schools and our ECD teacher training centres.”
They are constantly aiming to enlarge their scope and reach through expansion plans at the school such as additional classes and grades (they hope to offer Grades 8 and 9 soon). As well as more ECD training centres across the country.
Pillay feels they directly address the crisis of the marginalisation of ECD and teacher development, which is the vital aspect that needs to be addressed, through communications outreach to various stakeholders including the corporate business sector.
“So,” says Pillay, “our social contract with those beneficiaries (whether they are parents of learners at the flagship school or teachers themselves who were coming on board to get trained) speaks to commitment. It also shows that the status of education is important and the nobility of our profession. I can proudly say that our brand of graduates, children or adult learners, will come out with a more embracing perspective of further studies. Our courses add value and will help our learners to make an impact and not just care about self-development. Our focus,” Pillay continues, “is not just on self, but on the impact that one makes in their communities.”
The Love Trust offers parent empowerment ventures, eLearning initiatives for learner and home support programmes. Pillay says that “The Love Trust provides the possibility for learners in low-income environments to grow and develop.”
What opportunities are being missed on a national level that could help address these issues?
Pillay believes that not enough advocacy is being done and, as a result, fewer teachers are entering the profession and we’re losing solid educators of high calibre to other professions.
Pillay proposes that by raising the profile of the profession and active campaigning and budgeting to rope in new graduates into the profession, much can be done to bolster the recruitment of teachers.
At the same time retention of reliable teachers is also important, as many teachers are finding themselves overwhelmed and feeling replaceable because of things such as eLearning – which is not true. In Pillay’s opinion, you will never replace a resourceful teacher.
Then, as with the other international trends, South Africa needs to play catch up in prioritising ECD. Pillay believes that we are missing the gap if we don’t get the basics right at the foundation age, from Grade 000 (at about age three), and address parent involvement even at this early stage.
The private sector tends to gatekeep digital access to eLearning platforms. This causes more challenges for these communities and fewer opportunities. Pillay believes there must be ways around it and that solutions are within reach if the private sector comes on board.
“Lastly,” Pillay says, “would be the link between social workers, the Department of Social Development, the Department of Education, schools such as ours. We need more social workers, who are linked with schools. This is another thing that we do at The Love Trust, which the average public school or private school does often not prioritise. You need a school-based psycho-social support team that doesn’t just address academics.”
What are your words of wisdom this International Day of Education?
“We’ve just come out of some real strains and unprecedented issues,” says Pillay. “So, my wish is for everyone to remain optimistic that we, as a society, as a country, as a community, as individuals, will thrive and be part of the solution. Let’s be more positive and put our hand out to do something about it. Education is a societal priority.”
“For the teachers: don’t forget the nobility of the profession. Making such a change in lives is something to be revered. And lastly for the learners: the world is their oyster. These are exciting times that we live in, in terms of technology and the access it provides. The moon is not the limit anymore. So, my wish for them is to shine in all aspects of the talents that God has given them. Carpe Diem.”