SA education is rubbish - Jonathan Jansen

Jonathan Erasmus, The Witness

Durban - Firebrand academic Professor Jona­than Jansen says it is pointless introducing Mandarin in South African schools, when they cannot teach local languages.

The vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Free State pulled no punches during a speech in Durban on Wednesday, saying the state’s declared intention to offer Mandarin at South African schools was nothing more than “political gatkruiping” (brown nosing).

Jansen told the assembled academics that they were “training barbarians who are racist and sexist”.

He said until the country got the basics right, making the system “fancy”, by introducing tablets into classrooms, for example, would not work.

Jansen was addressing the AGM of the KZN Central Applications Office, which was attended by leaders from the province’s four universities and a number of private colleges.

“I don’t see the need for introducing Mandarin when we can’t seem to teach English, Afrikaans and Zulu first properly. Bringing in Mandarin is political gatkruiping,” he said.

While falling short of calling for a complete overhaul of the education system, Jansen said educationists had allowed “failure to become the new norm”.

Known for his bluntness and dislike of political correctness, he said one university in the province “continued to dish out a type of Bantu education”.

“You have all become complacent with this rubbish we call education. You have become institutionalised by keeping a dysfunctional system afloat.”

However, while acknowledging that the universities had challenges, he said the “base of education is extremely weak”.

“We need a long-term plan to get out of this mess. We should be thinking like Singapore who look 20 years ahead, but instead we only see tomorrow. Our role models are also these dysfunctional people in Parliament, when they should be Steve Biko or Robert Sobukwe. [Instead] we are training barbarians who are racist and sexist. They may be trained [in a subject or career], but they are not educated.”

He said the violent demonstrations held at universities annually by students was the result of a “lack of education”, and was not entirely the students’ fault because they had not been given the education required to make rational decisions.

He said the country had a “lazy culture”, investing heavily in education but obtaining poor results.

Last year, the government signed an agreement with China to roll out a Mandarin programme over the next decade, while in March the state gazetted Mandarin to be listed as a second additional language.

Basil Manuel, president of teaching union Naptosa, said while teachers were still coming to terms with the relatively new CAPS curriculum, piling more into the system would make it harder to get the basics right.

“We are still coming to terms with introducing indigenous languages in schools. This should be a priority, or are we becoming another Chinese province?”

He said the resources would be better spent on developing indigenous languages.

Education expert Les Stanley, who works with rural schools in the Midlands, said getting back to basics was absolutely necessary.

“On the ground there are huge issues. Children learning English in rural areas are already struggling, not because they aren’t intelligent but because they lack basic resources such as libraries.

Our focus needs to be rather on creating analytical minds. The introduction of Mandarin has dumbfounded me,” he said.

George van der Ross, CEO of the applications office, urged the provincial tertiary institutions to be open with the KZN Education Department and put pressure on the department to ensure that pupils studied maths and not maths literacy.

He also called on the universities to seek alternative methods of funding, away from the state, revealing that 60-80% of all students were on financial aid.

Questions sent to the KZN Education Department were not answered at the time of going to press.

The Witness