This high illiteracy is scary

There are times when you see things going terrible wrong but you keep telling yourself that it is just a dream however, today I now know very well that it was not a dream when almost on a daily basis I come as many as fifteen people who not only cannot read, write but that they also cannot express themselves especially in basic English.

Yesterday I have the privilege of asking this young man a couple of questions one of which was mathematical while the other one was general. Unfortunately (and please do not ask me why I was doing that to the poor guy, it just had to be done for reasons I will not state), the poor guy, let’s call him Tuelo, could not write and spell skills, did not know the answer to 45 divided by 3, and many other basic things in English.

And yes, before I get bitten, I know very well that English is nether my nor his mother tongue’s language. So, I should be gentle, sort of. But for someone like Tuelo* who had claimed that he had passed his Grade 9, formerly know as Standard 7, I expected a lot from him.

I expected him to, at least, be able to express himself in basic English like:

My name is Tuelo Merementsi and I am a 25 year old male. I passed my Grade 10 in 2002 and could not complete my high school grade because of the financial state which my family had experienced at the time.

Between 2003 and 2009, I stayed at home not doing anything for myself and future but just sat and watched as each day went by wondering how my future would be like if I did not get up and do something for myself.

It was then that I decided to go to Gauteng trying to look for employment with my highest grade passed and knowing very well that more than a Grade 10 qualification may be needed depending on the kind of look I landed.

I later got a job as a cleaner at Akanyang Cleaning Services and worked there for three month because I was a casual and that it was just a temporary job, hence such a short service. Since then, unfortunately, I have not been lucky with employment to date.

Tuelo could not say something to this effect, either in English or Setswana, his mother tongue language.

On a daily basis I meet and get to engage with people who have only passed their Grade 10 or less. It is rare to find, if you are luck, a person who has passed Grade 10 upwards and even Grade 12 who has progressed further in as far as further education is concerned.

In my area of work, it is rare and when you do, you are lucky.

Just the other day, I had the privilege, again, of speaking to Tshepo* who passed his Grade 12 Mathematics in Standard Grade with symbol B and English in Higher Grade 12 symbol E while, being a Zulu person, he got symbol B in isiZulu in Higher Grade.

Sadly, and this is the problem, the poor guy had difficulty in understanding basic questions in English and even basis mathematical questions in English. The problem, I later understood, was his misunderstand and lack thereof when it comes to English, and being very well aware that is it not his mother tongue.

Be that as it may, but for someone who had completed his senior qualification and did English as a language for his senior certificate in the late 90s I expected his grasping of basic English. Would you not have expected the same from Tshepo?

Asked why he got to pass his Mathematics with such a higher passing grade but failed to answer a basic mathematical question I had asked him, Tshepo said his teacher would normally translate or that he used to teach them mathematic in isiZulu and this had enabled him to grasp and understand Mathematics better that he would have had his he probably been taught in a foreign language, English (my emphasis).

And then comes the question of teaching kids in their mother tongue, but that is a topic for another day although it is related to the issue at hand.

As young as I am and knowing very well what it feels like coming from the rural community, upon asking these youngsters, many of them males, on why they had failed to either reach and or pass their matric or even further their studies at different institutions of higher learning, I often come across different reasons. While others I understand as I often sit down with them and ask them to open up to me and be honest in order for me to understand why they find themselves where they are at the time, many a times I find their reasons as real and true while others I do not. Some of the reasons give include, but are not limited to:

  • Lack of Financial resources, and
  • Family problems

That others found themselves too old to be doing the same grade as their younger brothers and sisters, being stubborn and out of hand and not wanting to be supervised by their parent are just some of the silly reasons I find pathetic and irresponsible that they could have resulted in these young boys not completing their schooling.

You are also likely to find that some of these young school drop-outs boys left school due to pressure from their respective families because they had impregnated their girlfriends.

Most of the Xhosa speaking ones and who claim to be from the Western Cape, if it is not because of financial problems and that they had to give way to their younger brothers and sisters – you would every now and then find that some of them once they are said to be “Man” upon returning from the Mountains they are told to hit the road and go and fend for themselves and no longer rely on their family for any support. That they are now men; they should act the part and look for employment.

Having struggled to where I am today and knowing how growing up in the villages and studying in rural school worsened by lack of resources, I sometimes tend to agree and see why some of these youngster are so demotivated and seem quite lost.

However, I do not think Free Education as advocated by some in the country is the way to go, but with this government having increased the Child Grant from 13/14 to 18 year old – I guess you just never know, do you?

That education should be free even at tertiary level to all is not the answer of the solution to this problem and it never will be. This because freebees are not taken seriously as they should be. That once on a third year at tertiary an NSFAS loan is turned into a bursary may probably go and help in the long run. But the question will be how many needy students can the scheme take and for how long is it is said to be marred by financial mismanagement? Who will keep pumping money into a scheme what would have no other way of recovering that money? Even I still owe NSFAS, but it is less than two thousand rand now, I suspect.

For example, Mail & Guardian reported sometime this month of young Capetonians who the Education Department had given Teachers Bursaries and who had completed their studies were still waiting to be placed in different public schools in the Western Cape. This, if you ask me, is money wasted. As a result some of these young graduates started to look for employment in the private section because the very same department that had given them bursary to study education in order to increase the number of teachers the country it is running short of had failed to give them that employment. Why?

The problem is that it is not only OBE graduate that can’t read and write basic English – and acknowledging very well that not being their mother tongue language – but that even some of those who are not graduates of OBE, those who went to school and dropped out before OBE was introduced, they also cannot write and read basis English.

If you are to employment these youngsters who cannot read and understand basis English and you happen to  employ them with certain requirement of having  at least passed Grade 10 upwards – how are they to read and understand terms and conditions of their own contracts of employment?

*Names have been changed to protect their identity.

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One thought on “This high illiteracy is scary

  1. Pingback: Is South Africa fulfilling “right to free education for all’ right? « Akanyang Africa

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