There can be no denying the strain placed on South Africa’s education system, even less so the mounting challenges facing the country’s youth, not to mention the teachers entrusted with ensuring their education.
Despite the best efforts of so many dedicated educators, the education’s system’s knees are buckling under the weight of external influences such as the aftermath of Covid, persistent corruption and loadshedding, to name but a few. The North-West University (NWU) is committed to being a pillar the education sector can not only lean, but rely on, and one of the ways the university is doing this is through The Education and Human Rights in Diversity Research Unit (Edu-HRight).
This unit, which is hosted at the NWU’s Faculty of Education, conducts research that plays a critical role in addressing the biggest challenges facing the South African education system, as this provides insights, evidence, and advocacy for, amongst others, policy and curriculum-related reforms.
Because, as external research has shown, the country’s education sector does not make for a pretty picture. In 2021, the Progress in International Redading Literacy Study found that 8 out of 10 schoolchildren in South Africa struggles to read. The 2023 Reading Panel Background Report found that 82% of grade 4 learners can’t read with comprehension. More examples of the dire state of affairs abound.
But, through their research, Edu-HRight is helping to right this wrong. According to part of the core group of the Edu-HRight team – comprising of Prof Johan Botha (Research Director Edu-HRight) and sub-area leaders Prof Ewelina Niemczyk, Prof Ferdinand Potgieter, Dr Shantha Naidoo, Dr Nicholus Mollo, Dr Celestine Mayombe and Prof Shan Simmonds – some of the major challenges facing the country’s education system are inequality, as South Africa still has one of the most unequal education systems in the world. Other challenges include infrastructure and facilities, as most public schools lack adequate infrastructure and facilities, which hinders the learning environment. This includes problems such as inadequate sanitation, unsafe buildings, and a lack of basic amenities.
“The quality of education in many South African schools, particularly in underprivileged areas, remains a major concern. After almost thirty years of democratic government in South Africa, some of the most persistent issues include overcrowded classrooms, shortages of qualified and spirited, enthusiastic teachers and educators, as well as an ubiquitous lack of essential resources like textbooks and teaching materials,” the team explains.
The shortage of teachers, the issues of violence and safety especially at schools in urban areas, the limited access to early childhood education – which is crucial to future academic success – the digital divide where many students lack access to the necessary technology and internet connectivity for remote learning as well as funding and budget constraints have been at the centre of Edu-HRight’s research. And, step by step, research output by research output, answers to these dilemmas are being investigated and discovered.
The team is also keeping an eye on future employment possibilities for current students.
“The curriculum in South Africa has undergone changes, but concerns about its relevance to the needs of the international job market and global society persist. Our own unit’s research indicates that the need for a curriculum that prepares students for both higher education and the workforce is now higher than it has ever been in the history of this country.”
The country’s education system faces a mountain to climb if it is to afford students the opportunities and resources they not only require, but deserve to succeed. Through the NWU’s commitment to helping achieve the 17 United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), of which SDG 4 (Quality Education) – which states the importance of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and the promotion of lifelong learning opportunities for all – this summit is within reach.
As the team states: “We believe that Edu-HRight’s research will continue to serve as a powerful tool for identifying, understanding, and addressing the challenges facing the South African education system. By upholding the principles of equality, non-discrimination, and the right to education, our unit’s research will continue to contribute to the development of socially relevant policies and educational practices that lead to a more equitable and inclusive education system in South Africa.”