Youth overcomes great challenges to ace matric as research shows rural communities bear grave development burden which negatively affects education achievement

Lucas Ledwaba

WHEN it rained the road from her village became impossible to drive on forcing the bakkie ferrying Maishibe Langa and other learners to school to take a detour that made the trip to the classroom longer and exhausting.

Sometimes when she sat down to study at night, the lights would suddenly go out. She would then turn to her cellphone torch for illumination so she could continue studying.

Her village of Raowele in the Waterberg district of Limpopo has poor network connectivity. It is typical of many rural villages across the country facing developmental challenges.

These are noted in a 2015 United Nations Millennium Development Goals Report 2015 report which estimated that roughly 2.8 billion people worldwide lacked access to modern energy services and more than 1 billion did not have access to electricity.

“For the most part this grave development burden falls on rural areas, where a lack of access to modern energy services negatively affects productivity, educational attainment and even health and ultimately exacerbates the poverty trap.”

When it rained this road became impossible to travel on forcing Maishibe Langa and fellow learners to take a long detour. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

The outbreak of covid-19 lockdown and the resultant lockdown forced learners like Maishibe to resort to online learning for most of last year. This meant an even greater burden on rural learners particularly with regards to issues such as network connectivity and high cost of data.

The Competition Commission found in its 2019 Data Services Market Inquiry that the existing international comparisons on mobile prepaid data prices that South Africa performed poorly relative to other countries with prices generally on the more expensive end.

“The ITU data shows that South Africa ranks poorly when compared across a worldwide selection of countries and is considerably more expensive than the cheapest offers,” the authority noted in the inquiry which was instituted after a public outcry over the price of data.

Maishibe said the poor network connectivity also presented a great challenge when they returned to class.

Maishibe Langa often had to study using her cellphone torch for lighting due to constant power outages. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

Her school Mantutule Secondary in Mesopotamia, a sub-village of Mapela in the Waterberg, like scores of other public schools in rural areas faces serious challenges, a factor underlined in a 2019 study, Teachers for rural schools – a challenge for South Africa (South African Journal of Education, Volume 39, Supplement 1, September 2019).

The paper by Pierre de Plessis and Raj Mestry makes the valid point that rural areas are generally remote and relatively underdeveloped and as a result many schools lack the necessary physical resources and basic infrastructure for sanitation, water, roads, transport, electricity, and information and communication technology.

They also add that the deprived socio-economic status of parents in rural areas places learners at a disadvantage.

A 2020 study by the Amnesty International titled Broken and Unequal – The State of Education in South Africa concluded that the country “has one of the most unequal school systems in the world, with the widest gap between the test scores of the top 20% of schools and the rest.” “Children in the top 200 schools achieve more distinctions in maths then children in the next 6,600 schools combined. More than three quarters of children aged 9 cannot read for meaning in some provinces this is as high as 91% (Limpopo) and 85% (Eastern Cape). Of 100 learners that start school, 50-60 will make it to matric, 40-50 will pass matric, and only 14 will go to university,” the report noted.

Due to lockdown regulations older teachers and those suffering from other health conditions deemed to make them vulnerable to covid-19 were not allowed to return to class but were required instead to conduct lessons using online connections.

Minister of basic education Angie Motshekga recently told parliament that over 1100 teachers have died of covid-19 since its outbreak last year.

“Zoom was a challenge because the network would suddenly break while a lesson was underway and we could not reconnect,” said Maishibe.

But despite the challenges she faced in her rural environment Maishibe is now eagerly waiting to start studying towards her occupational therapy degree at the Sefako Makgatho University in GaRankuwa. She obtained four distinctions in Geography, Life Orientation, Life Sciences and English.

Maishibe Langa passed matric with four distinctions despite facing numerous challenges as a result of lack of proper development in her village. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

“I have always been determined and the teachers were also determined so even though they lacked resources we managed to pull through,” says the shy 18-year-old.

Although Waterberg is comprised mostly of remote rural villages with a poor road network and lags behind in development, it emerged as the top performing region in the matric 2020 results in Limpopo.

The district scored a 77.5% average followed by Vhembe East with 77.1% and Vhembe West at 72.7%.

A total number of 53 634 of the 78 695 candidates that sat for the 2020 matric exams in the province in 2020 passed. The province achieved a 68.2% average just two places from the bottom of the national standings above Eastern Cape and rock bottom Northern Cape. It is interesting to note that these are South Africa’s provinces comprising mostly of rural areas.

According to the department of basic education a total of 440 702 of the 578 468 candidates who sat for seven or more subjects in the November 2020 NSC examinations obtained the NSC. “This translates to an overall national pass percentage of 76,2%. This performance shows a decline of 5.1% compared to the overall national pass rate of 81,3% attained in 2019.”

The department of basic education said the use of digital and online learning applications, such as radio lessons, video lessons offered on various platforms and social media platforms and e-resources on various national and provincial websites, grew exponentially.

“One of the major interventions was the nationally driven development and broadcasting of virtual lessons during lockdown since April on ‘free-to-air programmes’, ‘user pay channels’ as well as the extensive use of national, community and regional radio stations to offer lessons to the Class of 2020,” the department noted in a report on the National Senior Certificate 2020 report. – Mukurukuru Media

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