50 Things I’m Tired of About South African Education


This list consists of just a few things that irk me about education in South Africa. It is intended as a think-piece. Some of the ideas might be a little close to home for some, and they will either bury their heads in the sand or come out swinging, but I believe that most of it will resonate with the kind of teacher who will read this in the first place.

50 things I am tired of about education in South Africa…

  1. People blaming the Government / OBE / CAPS for all of our problems.
  2. Complaints about a lack of resources from teachers who never buy a newspaper, or think about using what they have creatively.
  3. Large classes and mass teaching.
  4. The belief that ‘edtech’ on its own will solve all of our problems.
  5. Teachers who believe that using PowerPoint is innovative.
  6. The government trying to remedy poor performances in schools by targeting numeracy and literacy – while the Arts and Humanities are pushed to the side.
  7. Students no longer being able to skip a grade.
  8. Schools shutting down extra-mural programmes.
  9. The fact that people in this country still cannot use the apostrophe properly, and say ‘your’ when they mean ‘you’re’.
  10. Using the word ‘failure’ when a child is not yet ready to progress.
  11. Teachers and heads of schools who have never heard of Ken Robinson.
  12. Teachers and heads of schools who have never heard about TED.
  13. Our allergic reaction to allowing students to tinker and try and fail a few times before getting it right.
  14. The fact that so few educationalists seem to know why Finland is succeeding so well in education.
  15. Teachers who use their holidays to ‘go away’ and then complain that there is never enough time to explore innovative education opportunities.
  16. The strange sense of entitlement by teachers and students alike – what happened to EARNING it?
  17. Teachers in private schools waved away for not being ‘in the trenches’.
  18. Teachers at government schools being thought of as not good enough to teach at a private school.
  19. Our test- and exam- driven school culture. Universities demanding ‘thinkers’ and then selecting entrants based on exam results.
  20. Our lack of alternatives to mainstream ‘academic’ schools.Some kids want to learn about fixing an airplane, not about what Shakespeare was trying to say in Act 3, Scene 1 of Othello.
  21. The word ‘academic’. Very few actually know what the word means – and those who do never use it in a school environment.
  22. The amount of teachers who have never heard of a taxonomy of cognitive skills, much less applied it in assessments.
  23. People who think that school uniforms worn properly are a sign of respect.
  24. Teachers who expect to be respected by their students but still do not know their names.
  25. Teachers who jealously guard their ‘prep files’ (with much of the contents being over 5 years old).
  26. One of the worst: teachers who refer to their matric students as ‘candidates’.
  27. People who still use the words ‘learner’ and ‘educator’ when they mean ‘student’ and ‘teacher’, as if by calling it something more all-encompassing, you will make it so.
  28. Teachers who say ‘that doesn’t apply to me / my subject”.
  29. Privileging the curriculum over the student.
  30. Rewarding good test-takers with ‘academic colors’.
  31. Telling students to sit still, be quiet and ‘do their work’ / ‘listen’.
  32. The amount of teachers who have never heard about metacognition.
  33. Not understanding that boys and girls need to be taught differently.
  34. Teachers who are afraid to have their students appraise them.
  35. Teachers who teach ‘critical thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ from notes or a textbook.
  36. Teachers who do not teach critical thinking or problem-solving.
  37. Teachers who are more upset about when the coffee runs out than when professional development opportunities are scarce.
  38. Government training which consists of someone reading something at me.
  39. Moderation that isn’t moderation.
  40. Educationalists referring to themselves as professionals because they dress smartly.
  41. Headmasters using the word ‘tradition’ when they actually mean ‘outdated values’.
  42. Schools being judged on their first team rugby results.
  43. Deputy principals saying they cannot drive innovation because they are too busy ‘putting out fires’ on a day-to-day basis.
  44. The entrenched belief that Maths and Science are somehow superior to subjects like Drama and History. Why?
  45. Teachers who say ‘you will need this subject to get a job one day’… No they won’t.
  46. The amount of university graduates who expect to walk into a middle management job.
  47. Inter-school rivalry.
  48. Grade 8s and 9s ‘stressing about exams’.
  49. The fact that so few of us seem to want to change all of this.
  50. Teachers having their kids at the same school.

Update (November 2014): A few more as suggested by that legendary South African teacher, Tony Hambly:

  • Schools that insist that teachers have to set homework – even when there is nothing meaningful to set. Remember that homework was invented by boarding schools to keep their pupils occupied after supper.
  • Giving first preference of interactive boards to Maths teachers when other subjects have a far greater need.
  • Employing professional sports coaches at higher salaries than the headteacher.

And on a lighter note, check out the ‘Terrible Teacher’ meme at: http://memebase.com/2011/09/06/memes-introducing-terrible-teacher/

And the rebuttal at:


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About Sean Hampton-Cole

Fascinated by thinking & why it goes wrong➫ (Un)teacher ➫iPadologist ➫Humanist ➫Stirrer ➫Edupunk ➫Synthesist ➫Introvert ➫Blogger ➫Null Hypothesist.
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4 Responses to 50 Things I’m Tired of About South African Education

  1. ideasoutthere Sean Hampton-Cole says:

    Hi Fiona. I prefer ‘educationalists’ as the general term. To my way of thinking, there is almost no way a departmental official can also be called an educator (people like Saul being one of the rare exceptions). I think the term was designed to included ‘lecturers’ (an ugly term if ever there was one!) in the tertiary realm and perhaps more generally to encourage ‘each one to teach one’… But it has just become another meaningless word. ‘Teacher’ still means more.

  2. Fiona Beal says:

    Thanks for verbalising this list Sean – they are things that need to be said. Actually I think this list could get a whole lot longer… We can’t pretend that all is well in SA education especially at a time like this when education world-wide is being re-thought. I just wanted to query your point 27: “People who still use the words ‘learner’ and ‘educator’ when they mean ‘student’ and ‘teacher’, as if by calling it something more all-encompassing, you will make it so.” I have never, ever liked the term ‘learner’ and recognise that it is a term that the DoE introduced probably in reaction to the previously used ‘student’ and ‘pupil’. However I was interested to hear recently that at the Microsoft School of the Future, I think it was, they refer to their students as ‘learners’. With regard to the term ‘educator’ I sometimes use that when I am referring to teachers, principals, Departmental officials etc. as a general term. Would you think that is acceptable?What about following this up with another post entitled ’50 ways to make a significant difference in SA education’? We like your prolific thinking.

  3. Fiona Wallace says:

    Thanks for a great list. Have posted to the CoZa Cares Facebook page.

  4. ideasoutthere Sean Hampton-Cole says:

    I left so many off the list…51. Teachers who think that giving masses of homework is a good thing.52. Teachers who think getting students to worry about exams is somehow helping them…

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