What's the fuss about IEB & Cambridge Schools

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By CharterQuest, 04 November 2019

A good Basic Education to start a young person’s career is a constitutional ‘basic human right’, yet in practice, this may not be guaranteed. 

Sharp differences in student outcomes from the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) and Cambridge Schools on the one hand and the Public Schools enacted to effectuate this right on the other will remain a scar on our conscience if we only criticise and fail to propose policy ideas.

Just as we experience in the Professional Education sector, young people are failing to cope with University studies and its academic pressures. A 2013 Council of Higher Education (CHE) report found that only 15% of undergraduates complete in the average 3 year regulation time, 48% do so two years late and about 55% never do, citing ‘student under-preparedness’, as the main factor.


The student under-preparedness phenomenon in South Africa is well researched. Whilst it should not be equated to intellectual paucity, experts agree it manifests in the propensity towards rote learning and plagiarism; to describe when asked to analyse, to repeat in lieu of justification; fixation with narrowness rather than divergence, trends and patterns; and a disposition to uninformed and highly subjective argument.

It is not uncommon according to the CHE report to find Mathematics and Physical Science teaching often focusing on standard templates that deliver exam success but not much on learners’ reasoning capacity. While the phenomenon cuts across racial divides, it is more prevalent amongst previously disadvantaged racial groups and often it contributes to the few who graduate, doing so with mostly borderline passes and not mastering their discipline, employers then sit with the problem.


A 2013 World Economic Forum report ranked South Africa number 140 of 144 countries on ‘quality of the Education System’ (below most African countries with a fraction of South Africa’s resources). In 2015, the same forum ranked South Africa even lower in the world for Mathematics and Science Education.......

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