A call for free education is not a win for our country, says the writer. File picture: Henk Kruger/ANA
I have yet to come across anything that is offered for free and is of quality. Generally, if something is offered for free, it is usually low in quality and lacks excellence. The cry for free education is an uneducated call.

You don’t have to look any further than our public schools in comparison with the independent schools in our country that still charge a fee for education. The quality is different.

In the village where I grew up, no matter how poor, parents who can, will sacrifice to get their kids to private schools for better and quality education. Because, everywhere you go, quality has got a price. No matter how poor you are, it does not mean you don’t appreciate and know what quality is.

This then got me thinking: A call for free education is not a win for our country. Often, we enjoy celebrating small victories in battles that will eventually cost us the war we are fighting.

Let’s start with the basics. I am a product of a basic education system that is appalling, producing below par results with a bar set so low. Masses of learners pass Grade 12, because all they need in most cases is a 30% passing mark.

It is not about striving for quality, but a mass production of quantity.

I asked some of the teachers from home about the logic behind a pass that requires a learner to obtain 40% in three subjects (one being a home language) and 30% in other subjects. All they said was: “That is what we deal with. We are here to just get these learners to move to the next level without worrying about the quality of learners which we are producing.”

They further say: “That is what you get, Mr Chabalala, for not paying a single cent. That is why we, as teachers, take our kids to paid schools that strive for academic excellence.” This is a reminder of anything that is public and free in our country. Yes, nobody is doing anything about the low quality of our basic education, which has adopted this frivolous system.

Look at our public hospitals and public clinics. Generally, they are poor in services. You know why? Because they serve our people for free. And free things lack quality. Quality is something you pay for. People who want quality services still run to private hospitals.

The same thing is going to happen to our universities and colleges once they are free, they will be offering tertiary education, but it will not be good in quality.

Those who have money, those who enjoy economic privilege in our country will continue to be a step ahead of us. We will not be narrowing the gap, but making it wider. Paying for our fees through loans and bursaries or scholarships like they do, makes us get the same quality of education as they do. Making universities free would mean opening new or more private colleges and universities for those who have money.

And just like we do have private schools in our country that offer quality education and strive for academic excellence, we will be opening the gap further. People still have a right to enrol their children where they want to. Just as people who have money ditch public schools, they will ditch our traditional universities as their quality drops. That is the war I was referring to above.

The school of thought that believes making tertiary education free helps us fight economic privilege, is flawed.

If we think that the obtaining of diplomas and degrees is the leveller of the social and economic imbalances in our country, we are wrong. It will only show how poor we are and how the rich continue to be richer.

I am all for the call to make it more affordable, but not free. Free education will not square up the poor and the rich. If our goal is only to get higher education qualifications and not quality higher education, let’s go ahead and make them free. The truth is, quality is expensive.

* Kabelo Chabalala is the founder of the Young Men Movement. E-mail, [email protected], Twitter @KabeloJay, Facebook Kabelo Chabalala

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

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