Quality education for all:  my opinion

 Opinion by Jacques K. Kamanda

South Africa’s education activists are adamant on their request to reform the national education system. They demand quality education for all in regard to existing disparities in education among public schools.

In fact this situation is not far from another form of discrimination. During the Apartheid era, the system deprived black people of quality education just to keep them uncompetitive and unequal to their white compatriots. White schools were ultra modern with all the teaching facilities competing with European classes. Black schools were poor, underequipped with very little resources. To date, 16 years in the democratic era, little seem to have changed and the impact of the education policy is hardly seen except for children from rich families who gain access to those former exclusive “whites only” schools. We know of bright learners from very modest families who are not offered space in those schools due to lack of financial sponsorship.

Although the demand for quality education for all is very genuine, there is need to rethink the whole education system.

As a teacher, I was and still am chocked to find that learners succeed with 33% for the Senior Certificate. This means that under normal circumstances the learner has only mastered 33% of the curriculum. As an employer, the employee of this calibre will deliver on an average 33%. Is this chap likely to be employed in a competitive market?

Also, the government should play its role fully in providing significant means to scholastic institutions. Schools in “locations”, those in previously disadvantaged areas are said to be empty due to lack of resources and qualified teachers but also because of criminality occurrence. Teachers need to be retrained to respond to the requirement of modern teaching. I recall-just as a trivial illustration-colleagues asking me to type their question papers only because they were not familiar with using a computer; while the school had a computer lab and teachers were even encouraged to acquire that skill for free. Above all, government should put to good use expert in education to generate more consistent curricula that take into account our realities. Our children should not continually be guinea pigs for experimentation of unsuccessful methodology that failed elsewhere; the OBE as one of those things. Equally important is the ban of the sub classification of a single subject into High, Standard or Lower grade. This is encouraging idleness while we would like to inculcate in our children the notion of hard work at early age as we aspire to be a hardworking nation. We are not on an island!

In the same angle, decent classrooms with modern equipment should be built to instil confidence in parents to let their offspring enrol in the school. With exposure to democratic principles, parents are at liberty to choose the best school for their children. Poorly equipped schools are deserted for modernised or well equipped schools. Equipment (science lab, computer lab and other gadgets) is an integral part of the indicator for a decent class besides the building. There is need to do so to be on a par with the rest of the modern world. Remember, we now are citizens of the global village!

The search for decent school providing quality education far away from parental residence is not always without consequences, especially on the academic result of the child or most unfortunately on the safety of the learner. A long distance trip is always tiresome for most individuals and mainly for children. Tired children are likely to underperform academically. Equally, lonely children walking long distances are luckily to be lured by people offering a “lift” home. We know what some of these “good Samaritans” are up to: abusing children on the way to school or home; abducting them and even killing them. Should the government bring quality education close to home, these horrendous things could be avoided to our little ones. Alternatively, offering school transport to needy children would be a remedy.

 However, knowing that some areas need exorcism to curb violence and/or crime among residents, we are of the opinion that safety and security measures should be reinforced to make each school a haven for peace. Many a time, media have reported incidents of criminal activity happening mostly at poor schools in rural areas or “locations”. A concerned parent cannot take chances to bring his/her child in such a learning environment.

Another burning issue that is equally worth addressing is the parents’ financial contribution towards the education of their children that should not be left to the sole discretion of the SGB members. The government should set the rates of school fees for all public schools taking into account the income of the least paid government official. Should this contribution be insignificant – as it has always been the case – then, the government should get prepared to step in to subsidise schools in compensation for the shortfall in the running of the school activities. Furthermore, schools could be allowed by government to fundraise for specific activities. Richer parents could then be involved in the fundraising exercise as it’s expected from them to give more money to the cause.

We also need to bring to the attention of the public the fact that children from poor families are sometimes attending classes while hungry and very often after covering a long distance on foot, with little or no stationery and in worn out uniform. The accusing looks glare at them and they end up feeling guilty of being poor. Such an attitude, once nurtured, is instrumental to envy, hatred, revolt and you name them. Such children end up becoming cumbersome with unpredictable antisocial behaviours.

Last but not the least; the language issue should be dealt with without emotion. As far as science is not yet translated into our local languages, I would invite us to adopt a more unifying language for the education of our children. We are not lucky like Chinese, Arabs or Japanese whose languages serve also as vehicles for acquisition of scientific knowledge. Even though, due to the character of globalisation, we end up being forced to express our thoughts in English or hire an expensive translator who do not very often express our emotions or convey our thoughts the way we would do it ourselves.