Debate: State of the Nation - contribution by UDM Spokesperson on Education (15 February 2010)

Mr Speaker, Mr President and honourable Members,

Mr President, I would like to devote my time to the question of education and skills.

I believe that we are in agreement on the contention that education is the key to uplifting the millions of disadvantaged people in our country. We also need to say unequivocally, that failure to address education is tantamount to condemning entire new generations to continued poverty. So, when we speak about improving education we are not merely talking about the benefits of action, but also about the terrible consequences of inaction.

Right now we have several million young people in this country who are unemployed and deeply frustrated by the failure of the education system to prepare them properly for further study or finding employment.

Whilst we welcome the measures you have announced with regards to improving basic literacy and assessing every school, these are ad hoc interventions. What the UDM has advocated, and which we would plead with you to urgently adopt as government policy, is the reintroduction of school inspectors who on a regular basis visit and assess schools. That is the best way to ensure the teachers and pupils maintain discipline and focus on schooling.

Another major benefit of school inspectors would be to identify and continuously track improvements at schools that are in desperate need of basic facilities, such as running water and weatherproof classrooms. We have the distinct impression that currently the Department of Education is not completely aware of where the most needy schools are, nor is anybody in Government tracking whether these schools are benefitting from the funding that is set aside to assist them.

The UDM is concerned that this Government fails to acknowledge that there is a serious disparity between what is being taught at our schools and FET institutions, and what is required for further study or employment. The Outcomes-based Education policy has only exacerbated the problem. Universities and employers in general report that matriculants and college-leavers simply do not possess the most basic skills.

This is the core of our unemployment crisis. This is why even in a growing economy more jobs are not created. Because there are not enough people that have the skills to make such jobs viable.

We are particularly concerned Mr President about the relegation of career-guidance to a sub-topic in the so-called Life Skills subject at school-level. Is it any wonder that our children are ill-prepared for the rigours of further study or the work-place?

As you can see, Mr President, what we are suggesting are simple measures. This is because we fervently believe that a return to the basics is what will produce the best results. It is not necessary to complicate matters; teachers must teach, children must learn. Inspectors must evaluate, assess and provide guidance.

I thank you.