The debate continues to rage on in South African society, about the return of pupils to school.  Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)
The debate continues to rage on in South African society, about the return of pupils to school. Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)

A need for solidarity on education issues

By Brian Isaacs Time of article published Jun 10, 2020

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The debate continues to rage on in South African society, about the return of pupils to school. 

The recent fiasco of the meeting, between the National Department of Basic Education (NDBE) and most of the teacher trade unions, about the start of school for pupils, illustrates the confusion at the moment. 

The call from this section of the trade unions is not to return to school across the country until the epidemic curve flattens. 

The government is of the opinion that schools must open if they are ready. Schools that are not ready must follow protocols laid out by the NDBE. I very often quote Don Mattera, the SA writer and poet, who says: “Memory is the weapon!”

These trade unions – when one looks at their history and reaction to issues in education – have a poor record. South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), National Association of Professional Teachers of South Africa (Naptosa) and SAOU (Suid Afrikaanse Onderwys Unie) agreed with the government to a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:40, in 1994, that led to the retrenchment of 20 000 teachers in SA, in 1996; the closing of 5 000 schools, from 1994 onwards, mostly in rural areas; the introduction of OBE, in 1998, with disastrous effects on the intellectual development of pupils.

These unions have, up to today, not admitted their complicity in this disastrous policy acceptance. 

We live with all these mistakes in the SA education scenario. Governments, since 1652, have not looked after the interests of the majority of pupils in SA. 

What now makes people think that the government will equalise education across the board? The present rulers have not had the guts to close down private schools. SA is the most unequal society in the world. The fight to correct this is a long term one. There are many forces to overcome before we can become an egalitarian society.

In the Western Cape the DA-controlled government turned up its nose at the national government by instructing teachers and pupils to return to school on Monday, June 1, 2020. Alan Winde, Debbie Schäfer and Brian Schreuder are responsible for this fiasco, due to their arrogance. 

This is typical of how they rule the Western Cape. They think they know the best for the majority of the people in the Western Cape.

Unfortunately, many teachers in the Western Cape feel threatened by these bullying tactics of the DA-controlled administration. 

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) use their whipping section – the Labour Relations Department – to sort out progressive teachers, whose political views they do not want to listen to. Politics and education can never be separated. The WCED’s silencing of their opponents indicates that they use politics to sort out their adversaries.

I once again call upon progressive trade unions to support teachers, parents and pupils on their return to school. Again, I emphasise that schools can only go back once all safety precautions are taken. All progressive teachers must roll up their sleeves to see that the education of our children continues. 

This period must be used by parents, teachers and pupils to highlight the inequalities in our society and what we, as the oppressed, should do to break down all the barriers to free ourselves. This cannot be done while we are sitting at home and not engaging with parents, teachers and pupils.

I want to emphasise that the going back to school must not be driven by the government, but by ourselves – who are interested in the welfare of our pupils’ lives as we move into the future. 

I want to use the political lesson taught to us by the late Struggle leader Neville Alexander: “When faced with a brick wall in front of you (cul-de-sac), the most progressive thing to do is to reverse.”

* Brian Isaacs obtained a BSc (UWC) in 1975, a Secondary Teacher’s Diploma in 1976, BEd (UWC) in 1981, and MEd (UWC) in 1992. He is a former matriculant, teacher and principal at South Peninsula High School.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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