Grade 7 class children who have been back at school for the first time since the country went onto lockdown due to Covid-19 outbreak. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)
Grade 7 class children who have been back at school for the first time since the country went onto lockdown due to Covid-19 outbreak. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

LETTER: Education in South Africa has changed very little

By Abdurahman Khan Time of article published Jun 16, 2020

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The following letter is in response to, "Teachers' jobs at risk as parents cannot afford school fees due to lockdown":

The front page of the Cape Argus on June 10 said teacher unions must stop urging School Governing Bodies (SGBs) from harassing our poor parents by demanding school fees. The unions should instead demand free, quality and decolonised education.

The Western Cape Education MEC was ever-ready to claim schools were ready to function from June 1. I want to remind her and the unions that all schools have never been ready since the coloniser Jan van Riebeek landed on our shores.

It is a shame that since democracy very little has changed in education, except for implementing a South African Schools Act (Sasa) that allows poor parents to be humiliated. Poor parents are faced with the reality of debt collectors being sent on them by SGBs. Poor parents have to humiliate themselves in front of these SGBs to be exempted from school fees. They often hear comments like “but you’re wearing such expensive clothes”. The implication is that these poor parents have to prove their poverty to other wealthier parents.

This in a post-apartheid South Africa. Many children cry themselves to sleep because they are hungry. Fifty-five percent of children in the poorest 20% of households do not have adequate supplies of potable water.

In the private education system we see the wealthy schools use fees and a range of other means to exclude poorer learners, and largely maintain the apartheid structures of privilege. Sadly, this practice is now taking place at our schools on the Cape Flats.

When SGBs were formed, it was in a context of a virtual trade-off. Parents were given “powers” in terms of writing school policy (language, interviewing and recommending teachers for appointment, etc) while making these SGBs responsible for supplementing the lack of state subsidies to schools.

In a Education Watch column Brian Isaacs, questions “Where did we find the money to fight the Covid-19 outbreak?” He says that while principal at South Peninsula High School for 32 years, he had raised the conditions of poor schools 1000 times with the Education Department. The circuit managers, directors of education, heads of education, members of the executive councils in the Western Cape all said to him there is no money. He says that he used to argue that it was their responsibility to find the money. He says that now, with coronavirus, money has been found. I concur with this legendary teacher and principal. Sir, you are spot on.

Parents are not ATM machines, neither are they employment agencies. It is the responsibility of the Education Department to employ teachers and supply all the resources, including the promised PPEs.

Free quality education is the right of every child. Today the education set-up has a posh segment for a rich minority and a deprived segment for the struggling majority because government pro-rich policies have generated great wealth for a small elite class and dire poverty for millions of people.

It is far too long that poor parents have sat quietly and watched the onslaught by SGBs. The only way to deal with the crisis is to equalise education immediately. The state must take over private schools and there should be no school fees.

At his 2015 Jakes Gerwel lecture, Carlos Lopes, executive secretary of the Economic Commission, said: “Humanism is opposed to war, tyranny, unjust and oppressive systems, hierarchy, autocracy, inhumane treatment of people and any policy rule or institutions that are detrimental to human dignity, integrity and well-being. Humanists posit the existence of a community that binds every individual to all others. The idea of humanism is referred to as Ubuntu.”

* Abdurahman Khan, Rylands Estate.

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

Cape Argus

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