South Africa’s Education System: A Copy and Paste of the UK Education System

Published on 2nd October 2019

I propose to begin by quoting the Pharaoh of African studies, Dr Cheikh Anta Diop when he wrote:

We must remain circumspect about subtle efforts to Anglo-Americanise Black Africa, considering how many of the colonies were formerly British. The joint efforts of Great Britain and of the United States especially run counter to established “intellectual” habits and suggest to former French, Portuguese, Spanish, or other colonies that they ought to opt for English, so as to make that tongue the lingua franca of the whole continent.

Linguistic unity based on a foreign language, however one may look at it, is cultural abortion. It would irremediably eventuate in the death of the authentic national culture, the end of our deeper intellectual and spiritual life and reduce us to perpetual copycats, having missed out on our historical mission in this world. Anglo-Saxon cultural, economic, social and even political hegemony would thereby be permanently guaranteed throughout Black Africa. We must remain radically opposed to any attempts at cultural assimilation coming from the outside: none is possible without opening the way to the others.

Indeed South Africa’s authentic national culture, its intellectual and spiritual life is dying or dead and has become a perpetual copycat and Anglo-Saxon cultural, economic, social and even political hegemony is permanently guaranteed in this country unless the country can be rescued by removing the ANC from power. South Africa has been culturally assimilated because the ANC is too willing to cosy up to Britain and the US.

The South African government has still not grappled with the language issue with which some African countries, especially in East Africa were faced. South Africa is linguistically heterogeneous and makes use of a second or third language as a language of education in the higher stage of the educational process. The use of second languages as media of instruction in the first years of schooling is an issue that arouses deep concern on the part of many experienced and informed educationists because of the undeniable inefficiency of attempting to learn the medium and the content of instruction simultaneously, Language in Education in Eastern Africa edited by T P Gorman, 1970. The country hasn’t introduced a curriculum to express and inculcate national values and national consciousness.

The ANC government should have started translating science and other textbooks to different indigenous languages from 1994 and created employment for translators. Twenty five years later there is not a single science textbook that has been translated to indigenous languages. It shows the ANC government is not serious about promoting African culture. As Dr Diop said, “I see a total incompatibility between the formal defence of African culture on the one hand, and the systematic refusal on the other to adopt concrete measures to develop our national languages. Those who are incapable of solving this problem can do nothing for African culture. They merely embrace African culture to better smother it. Their attitude shows them to be impostors.”

If the ANC government had a coherent language policy they would not have a problem of some white people trying to build an exclusive Afrikaans university. Afrikaans is a hybrid language of Dutch and other European languages.  

South Africa has copied almost everything from its colonial master Britain, from the Westminster type of parliamentary system, legal system to the education system. The education system that South Africa now wants to implement is a copy and paste of the United Kingdom system of education although state education in Scotland doesn’t use the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), it uses the Scottish Qualifications Certificate.

In Britain it’s called GCSE. The South African government wants to introduce General Education Certificate (GCE) in which school leaving is going to be after 9 years. In order to conceal that the South African has copied their system from Britain, they left out of Secondary and remained with General Education Certificate. The copying is so transparent even if they can try to conceal it. However, in Britain their GCSE is 11 years where students can decide if they want to leave school and go into the job market or proceed to vocational training or GCE Advance Level for a duration of 2 years after which they can go to university.

After that 9 years of schooling the South African government wants students to go to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. In Britain, after 11 years, students could elect to pursue a General and Vocation Education Qualification. This TVET was copied from Britain’s GNVQ which was abandoned in 2007.

TVET’s are for education and training which provide knowledge and skills for employment. Since these TVET colleges are mainly meant for Africans in generally and particularly from poor backgrounds, it is my view that the African people are being turned into a proletarian class for South Africa’s capitalist economy which is controlled by a handful of white people who have co-opted the comprador bourgeoisie.

Instead of channelling Africans to TVET colleges and turning them into the proletarian class, the education system should combine vocational and academic subjects from the foundation stages. As the students advance in their schooling, those who are vocationally inclined would then go to these TVET colleges after 11 years of schooling not 9 years; and those who are academically inclined would pursue academic courses at university. This is how it is done in other countries. In countries like Romania, schooling before university or college is about 14 years. In the Province of Ontario in Canada it is 13 years and in other provinces of Canada it is 12 years.

Why do South African authorities rush students to leave school after 9 years of primary and secondary school when there is such a high rate of unemployment in the country? Emerging from centuries of colonialism, South Africa needs to train as many scientists as possible up to PhD level instead of designing an education system that compels students to leave school after 9 years of schooling. This system the ANC government wants to implement is similar to the one that obtained during the apartheid era that made students to do courses such as teaching and nursing after Form 3 which was 11 years of schooling. White students finished high school after 11 years and went to university or college after attending a year’s compulsory military training. African students spent 13 years before going to university which was a deliberate waste of time. There were first two unnecessary years spent in Sub A and Sub B instead of just going straight to Grade One. In Botswana primary schooling was 6 years beginning with Standard 1 to Standard 6 and high school was 5 years. It hasn’t changed.   

The South African education system has been used on students as a pilot project for the past 25 years. The students are experimented on, there is no coherent education foundation and curriculum suitable for the conditions of a people emerging from centuries of colonialism and white supremacy. The ANC government keeps on changing the curriculum without changing the philosophy of education.

South Africa’s policy makers, especially in the field of education appear to lack creativity. Dr Diop was once asked what the actual mission of culture was. He responded that it was survival and creativity. He said man must create to survive. To create he must ensure his survival. “Collective historical consciousness is one of man’s chief means of survival and a source of creation. Destroy or stifle it and the chances for the survival of a people become questionable. The cultural personality of Africa is inseparable from the restoration of our collective historical consciousness.”

To assume his destiny, man must be a creator irrespective of his race. The loss of our national sovereignty strangled our independent creativity. Today, as black people are slowly recovering their national sovereignty, we are obliged to free ourselves from all forms of cultural alienation. Without that internal recovery and psychic self-appraisal very little can be accomplished. The recovery of political sovereignty is merely one aspect of the question. Economic sovereignty is another. Psychic autonomy is yet another. All three must combine in a dynamic renovative effort. These are the terms by which I define the African and world black renaissance.

The restoration of the historical consciousness of black and African peoples, with all its implications, necessarily leads to a veritable reversal of perspectives and to a fundamental transformation of our cultural relationship with the rest of the world. Black peoples have been weighed on the scales of history by others and been found wanting, concluded Diop.

South Africa is a country of inequalities and disparities. These affect education in a very significant way. Instead of dealing with socio-economic problems that were created by centuries of colonialist oppression and white supremacy, South African authorities offload these socio-economic problems on the education of the African people in order to remove the burden of African students’ education from the government by reducing years of schooling. They must grab the bull by the horns and address the issues Dr Diop raised.

The ANC government is incapable of designing an education system suitable for a people emerging from centuries of colonialist and imperialist oppression. Therefore there must be a commission appointed from all stakeholder who will design the country’s education system without any trappings of British or United States influence.    

By Sam Ditshego.

The author  [email protected]  is an Independent Researcher.

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