Thinking back, my education feels like a sham: most lectures were monotonous, unidirectional recitations of prescribed textbooks or readings with many examinations and assignments requiring a simple regurgitation of the lectures in order to pass. Most educational institutions in South Africa and around the world incorporate this method of teaching which Paulo Freire termed the ‘banking system of education’.
In Freire’s work Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), he claims that the ‘banking system’, in which learners are treated as empty bank accounts that are filled by their all-knowing educators, learning is passive. Such education ill-equips students for the real world, leaving them unable to truly think for themselves. At the same time, this method is outdated in contemporary society, educators are no longer like Carol Beach York’s ‘Miss Know it all’; technological advancements (computers, mobile phones and iPads) allow an affordable and easy access to information which enables students to fill their own ‘banks’. Moreover, according to recent results, this ‘banking system of education’ is no longer working.
While high failure rates may be linked to apathetic, lazy or wayward learners, there also exists a responsibility on the teachers. A new salary dispensation for educators has been implemented in South Africa; with this system, educators are evaluated in terms of their students’ performance and this should reflect in their salaries. While this approach may be problematic in that teachers may implement ‘cheap tricks’ to strengthen the grades of their students or that students in a particular class may be unusually raucous, it does imply that the students are not solely responsible for their grades and that educators have a huge role to play.
South Africa is a uniquely diverse country and education systems should therefore incorporate such diversity. Freire’s preferred system involves active learning that is reciprocal, in which the teacher is also the learner and the learner is also the teacher. This approach instills active thinking and confidence through participation and involves teaching through dialog rather than dictation. While there are efforts made to encourage such participation, these efforts are never fully incorporated and learning remains an act of repeat and remember.
Another flaw in the educational system is its method of assessment. In my 17 years as a pupil, I have always found assessments to be subjective in one way or another regardless of the subject; in some cases, a simple change of lecturer would guarantee a pass or fail. Some educators may provide method marks in mathematical or scientific courses, some may not; some educators may incorporate negative marking for multiple choice questions, some may not; some educators may prepare their students to the extent that they practically provided their students with the model answers, some may not. Some schools also focus more on their overall pass rates than their students – in my old school, my teacher only taught us half the required syllabus since she knew that we would only have to answer four of the ten questions in the provincial examination. The overall result that marks the student’s ability and, in some cases, their future in the form or either a number or symbol is never universally objective but is universally understood. In other words, a Fail to anyone in the world indicates that the student is either incompetent or let the balls drop; however, the student may have received an A with the same amount of effort in a different institution.
Provincial or national assessments may decrease the level of subjectivity involved in marking but may prove to be disadvantageous to some due to a lack of available resources for the impoverished and the huge digital divide in South Africa.
In order for South Africa to improve as a country, the educational system needs to be revised from its lowest level all the way through to tertiary since one of the major problems that universities are currently facing is that students lack basic education. Implementing a better educational system will not only increase the matriculant pass rate and better equip students for the work world but will also aid in decreasing poverty and crime and improving health issues. It will also provide a greater sense of pride in students who achieve degrees and diplomas in higher education. I currently am sitting rather uselessly on two university degrees and am unable to find employment. I feel like the approximate R100 000 spent on my education could have been used to start my own business and the four years wasted to achieve two certificates could have afforded me with usable practical knowledge and experience.