What's happening in education during lockdown is bound to deepen the crisis in our schools

File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

File picture: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 14, 2020


During my days as a student teacher we shared social media messages via graffiti, bumper stickers, coffee mugs and key rings. The events of the past few weeks stirred one message from those days deep in my psyche: the mistake of a doctor kills one person, but that of a teacher kills the entire generation.

This quote refers to the shortcomings of the system within which the teacher practises their craft. This is the collective impact of the decisions and actions of those running education, practitioners, governing bodies, parents and other influential members of society.

Education is more than just what takes place in schools. It is what our children see, hear, consume - in general, experience - every day of their formative years. The effects of what children live at this critical stage endure beyond their generation and take a miracle to undo.

What has been happening during lockdown is bound to deepen the crisis. Children born in 2000 until 2010 have been part of a public education system that cannot shake itself out of slumber.

As far back as 2012, organisations like public sector law centre SECTION27 were fighting the state in court over its failure to deliver textbooks in Limpopo. A child who did Grade 1 in 2012 is in Grade 9 now. Her school is possibly paralysed by systemic indecision, ineffectiveness and inefficiency, aggravated by the coronavirus and the resultant shutdown. She has had to rely on radio and TV broadcasts, mobile network operators or the internet (without affordable data), and newspapers to keep up with her schoolwork. The Department of Basic Education would have bewildered her with announcements and retractions about reopening schools. She would have heard teachers decrying the late delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Meanwhile, the adults in her life would be singing and dancing for joy to celebrate the return of alcohol on the same day that schools were not able to resume her education.

This Grade 9 learner is back at school this week after the weekend news regarding PPE going missing in KwaZulu-Natal and fears that her teachers are among those who tested positive for Covid-19.

When not in school, she follows social media posts #JusticeForTshego and #JusticeForNaledi - the latest additions to the multitudes of women killed by lovers. She, her sisters and mother live in fear of - or with scars - of violence and abuse.

She is immersed in a system generally unable to punish corrupt politicians and businessmen who steal what should help the poor.

The best her country can do is institute endless lawsuits and commissions of enquiry of no measurable consequence.

That is the education that is shaping the woman she will become in a few years. When she (or her male counterparts) emerge as social misfits, we will want to condemn them to life in prison when we should punish ourselves for decades of child neglect.

We are panicking about helping the economy to recover and eradicating Covid-19. However, true urgency should be saved for the real killer: the miseducation of our children. Among the top five unifiers of all South Africans for the next 10 years should be repairing our education system, as a short-term and long-term priority.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.

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