(c) South Africa Institute of Chartered Accountants. Contact SAICA for permission to reproduce this article., Public Interest

Fixing a schooling system in crisis

By Johnathan Dillon

South Africa’s basic education system is in desperate need of an overhaul, and two important aspects of a successfully revamped education system are a student-centred focus and passionate teachers. 

Few South Africans would deny that our basic education system is in a crisis. The quality of our education system, especially maths and science, is so poor at present that it is ranked at the bottom when compared to other countries around the globe.1

Consequently, many learners do not complete matric or pass matric without exemption and are therefore not able to study for a bachelor’s degree at university. Furthermore, from the pool of students who pass matric with exemption, most pass with Maths Literacy and not ‘pure’ Maths, which means they are not able to enrol for many BCom programmes (especially those accredited by SAICA) which require ‘pure’ Maths. Maths Literacy is sadly seen as an easy way out when the going gets tough for learners with ‘pure’ Maths and it is also a way for schools to improve their matric pass rates.

A City Press article2 published earlier this year outlined key findings from a collection of education-related research papers produced by education experts. These findings, summarised below, are a major cause for concern:

  • Undue influence exerted by unions which apparently interfere with the ability of the education system to function effectively
  • Weak institutional functionality with, for example, less than half the requisite number of lessons being taught at many schools
  • Poor content knowledge of many teachers as well as an inability to effectively convey the knowledge successfully to learners

Clearly, something needs to be done to fix our schooling system. Government needs to acknowledge the severity of the problems noted above and take decisive and effective remedial action. In this regard, I believe two key elements are required for South Africa to overcome these problems and move into the upper echelons of global educational rankings, namely student-centricity and passion.

Student centricity

Being student-centric entails putting students at the centre of all decision-making and doing what is in their best interest to ensure that they are best placed and adequately equipped to succeed. This is required from all role-players within the education system, from policy-setters to teachers. Student-centricity is not, for example, ‘teaching to an assessment’ to ensure better pass rates but rather seeing beyond the assessment and preparing the learner for success in life beyond the classroom based on the content covered.

The NMMU School of Accounting has followed a student-centric teaching approach for many years. This has enabled the school to adapt appropriately and timeously to change and has ensured the sustained success of its flagship CA(SA) programme.

The Management Accounting and Finance (MAF) Division under my watch has also had great success in this regard. We have assisted students by, for example, scaffolding the MAF curriculum over the years of study and implementing value-adding interventions to assist students with critical thinking, exam technique, and integration of content. Furthermore, we have provided a platform for influential guest speakers to motivate students and provide practical insight into their studies. We have also expanded the MAF postgraduate offerings available to students upon completion of their undergraduate studies. This was all done in response to student needs and what we deemed to be in their best interest for ultimate success.


Joseph Campbell said, ‘Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures.’ A passion for education is therefore what all role-players in our basic education system, in particular teachers, require.

With a passion for imparting knowledge and a true desire to see learners succeed, teachers will upskill to an appropriate level, be in the classroom and convey knowledge to learners effectively.
I have a great passion for teaching as well as the MAF discipline and can attest to the fact that my passion has enabled me to successfully evolve from being a professional accountant into an effective academic. It has also enabled me to be a motivator and mentor to many students, something which students nowadays desperately need, in addition to the effective delivery of content.


Our basic education system can be fixed but it requires student-centricity and passion – two key elements which are clearly lacking in our current system based on the current state of play.

1 World Economic Forum, The Global Information Technology Report 2016.
2 Sipho Masondo, Education in South Africa: a system in crisis, City Press, 31 May 2016, available at http://city- press.news24.com/News/education-in-south-africa-a-system-in-crisis-20160531 (accessed 5 September 2016).