Limpopo never ceases to amaze me, but then again, little amazes me lately.
In the not so distant past, teachers cum politicians took umbrage at the invasion of schools on the first day of the academic calendar by politicians of every stripe. The teaching professionals are continuously pushed to the side as people who know almost nothing about teaching take centre stage, taking selfies to splash their flambouyant lavish lifestyle to powerless people who don’t care.
Political office bearers, our so-called ‘honourable members of institutions’ from the Presidency down to the ward councilor find their ways to one school or the other, where, with the media in line, make pronouncements to appease the vote-chunk polishing their empty egos. This tendency adds little value, if any to the learning journey, unfortunately. Politicians visit schools on the first day and then disappear for the entire year, making another appearance the following year.
The teachers can only start work once the politicians and the cameras vanish. Whose line is it anyway, we should ask?
This spectacle is a low-blow guilty admission of the fact that the education system in our country has become vain.
There should be no need in a functioning system for non-education people to invade schools on the first day, ostensibly to ensure that teaching takes place on the first day of the school year.
Frankly, education is one of the biggest failures of a democratic project-dispensation in South Africa. That failure wastes legions of our young people and robs the economy of the skills that would otherwise be produced.
Indirectly, that failure is responsible for the high crime rate South Africa suffers. How do we expect the youth we fail to educate to make a living?
If we visit our immediate neighbours in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Zambia and Botswana, we won’t find this junk-party on the opening day of schools. There is also no festivity on the occasion of the announcement of the results of their grades because they’ve integrated systems that work effectively and efficiently for their sustainable development.
Even in our own country, this occurance is a recent development. The fact is, things were not done like this when our forebears traversed the educational journey. Should we then institutionalise and celebrate mediocrity at our cost? These practices of officiating festivals to announce the matriculation results and the visits to schools on the first day of the academic year were started after the advent of the democratic project attempting to cure the educational system of the ills brought about by the massive involvement of students in the liberation struggle.
Stakeholders in education lost control of the youth, resulting in the school system which is characterized by chaos, ill-discipline and dysfunction. No wonder we’re reaching the status of a ‘welfare-nation.’ Unfortunately, this is the price we’re paying for having our youth leading the struggle for freedom: free education etc. In fact, we’re still recovering from that legacy and the hang-over lingers in us because we’re battling to reconcile.
Due to that history, and the fact that pupils are easy to mobilise, some adults resort to using pupils whenever they have a quarrel with the authorities, unfortunately! A typical case in point herein is the Vuwani situation in Limpopo.
Instead of indulging in this annual festivity at matriculation results announcements and the opening of schools, we should be knuckling down to the task of building systems that work. That would ensure that schools start properly as a matter of course, without drama.
The system should be run by professionals, who naturally would be accountable to the parents, communities and the department of education. Among others, we need to sufficiently strengthen the district offices. The district officials, who are educational professionals, should ensure that schools open on time, that they have capacity to deliver on their mandate without excuses. The district managers should ensure that the physical state of the schools under their jurisdiction is acceptable and assess the quality of work done in their work space.
Presently, the South African classroom is miserable. Neither the principal, the district manager, the superintendent, the MEC, the Minister of Education, nor the President can tell you what is going on in the South African classroom. Despite the fact that most of them, have little to nothing to show in academia. Should we be surprised?
We should consider fixing our education system as a matter of national priority at the highest level. Judging from the national behaviour, it’s evident that we have all agreed that education is a potent weapon with which we can effectively tackle rampant poverty, unemployment and inequality. Attempts to fight these potential fatal defects in our society without solving the education problem would fare just as well as attempts to draw a woman with one breast.
One of the consequences of a continued feeble fickle public education system might be the steady growth of private education from kindergarten right up to university in South Africa.
For others among ourselves who are proponents of public education, such a prospect is a bane that keeps us awake at night.
Education makes it possible for children of peasants, workers, the intelligentsia and the middle classes to interact and learn together. Perhaps we should remind ourselves of the communist and socialist ideology on this. It reduces socio-economic spaces within our various social classes, fosters solidarity and understanding, whilst diligently holding the costs of education reasonably affordable for all.
An ailing public education system forces parents, even struggling ones, to dig deep into their pockets to send their offspring to independent schools. It is thus in our national interest to fix our education system, not through unnecessary once-off annual festivities, but through a robust functioning system for a positive course of the well being of the nation.
Koketso Marishane writes as an active concerned citizen.