Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

We are simply not answering the right question on education

By Opinion Time of article published Mar 14, 2021

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By Pali Lehohla

A YOUNG life whose quest for education was the only reason it was cut short was that of Michael Komape. He drowned in a cesspit in Limpopo for committing the sin of seeking enlightenment.

The tragedy filled expeditions from Eritrea in the north to South Africa in the south by Dr Emmanuel Taban in his quest for the golden fleece is but yet a confirmation of Africa’s practice position towards education.

As I saw scores of students pouring into the streets this week to demand inclusion in the country’s universities, I realised that our system is in comatose and there is absolutely no one home to mind reading and interpreting the numbers and translating that reality into policies.

Nearly 45 years after the June 16 student protest, the spectre of poverty continues to eat at our soul.

Escape excuses are fervently proffered around what type of education. However what is important is feeding the brain with capabilities and capacity to think, explore and problem solve.

Sick minds have unfortunately continued to ask the wrong questions: where will we get the money to afford education? Perhaps if we asked an educated question we would come to a different conclusion.

Can we afford not to have education? If we answer that correct question, our policies will not set fire between peace keeping and knowledge creation.

These two should coexist in harmony. But the wrong question and the inappropriate policy prescript have pitted a peace keeper with a knowledge creator.

Those coming up with this policy prescript are hardly seen in the stadia of rampage they created.

I am a staunch advocate of free education.  In Lesotho we enjoyed that privilege. In 1976, the government tried to deny me the privilege.

Were it not for the American Peace Corps being informed about my plight I would have languished. The Peace Corps got into action over the December holiday and immediately intervened.

I absolutely enjoyed seeing these high ranking government officials being ridiculed by the unconstrained Americans.

They had to undo their decision after six months. Friends like the late ambassador of Lesotho to Canada, Ralechate Mokose, and Julius Metsing allowed me to squat in their allocated two person room for six months.

During student functions the two and I collected as many empty soda bottles and I would go and exchange them at the student bar – for 5 cents each.  They also helped me collect the unused meal coupons that were issued at the beginning of the year and I survived before I rebelled and just queued like everyone at the cafeteria and ate.

One thing Lesotho got right was to afford full scholarship. Passing was a condition. If you failed you were discontinued to be allowed back after two to three years.

When I went to the Heher Commission as the then Statistician General, the evidence was clear and I said free education is the answer and I was happy that former president Jacob Zuma declared it – at times you have no option but to precipitate a crisis in order to get things right. Covid-19 has just taught us that bitter lesson.

Zuma may have got many things wrong and burdened us but not the one on education. Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande wants to blame him for the decision as though if he had not made it the problem would vanish. Knock, knock, is there anybody home?

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites


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