The schooling system refuses to open doors to the majority. In fact, many educational researchers have highlighted how South African education reflects two different systems, says the writer. Picture: African News Agency
The schooling system refuses to open doors to the majority. In fact, many educational researchers have highlighted how South African education reflects two different systems, says the writer. Picture: African News Agency

There can be no normal schooling in a politically volatile society

By Opinion Time of article published Feb 22, 2021

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Vuyisile Msila

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” says Marcellus in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Here he is talking about the crumbling of political hierarchy and how this destroys the fabric of society.

It refers to the idea of how a fish rots from the head thus signalling the crumbling of the political pyramid. The crumbling of any political hierarchy will surely have a huge impact on various sectors of society and education is, unfortunately, one of the critical ones that are shaped by the direction of the captains in the bow of the ship.

So, with all the problems compounded by the pandemic of Covid-19, the country has to contend with the heavy challenges which may eventually lead to a rotten state of the Republic.

From history, we know how the leaders of the ANC supported education. John Dube, the first leader, established a huge black educational institution, Ohlange which became a historical beacon.

The presidents that followed decades later also vowed to support education because there was this belief that it will redeem the oppressed. Even the early youth league members underscored education and these include Muziwakhe Lembede and Robert Sobukwe.

Sobukwe referred to education as the barometer of African thought. At a time of decolonising of the institutions, we need this barometer.

If we can gauge our education progress through what is happening in the ruling party, we should be afraid for the country’s education.

It is a fact there can be no normal schooling in a politically volatile and abnormal society. Yet, it was the Congress of the People in 1956 that proclaimed: “The doors of learning and culture shall be opened to all”. And 65 years later, many families, all indigent and likely to be black have been banging the doors to no avail.

The schooling system refuses to open doors to the majority. In fact, many educational researchers have highlighted how South African education reflects two different systems.

The affluent usually select well-resourced schools while the indigent are usually trapped in under resourced schools where programmes are usually ineffective.

At the moment the country is trying to stand on its feet as the ruling party is mired in tumultuous waves. Certainly, education will be the last thing that any politician can think of in the current turmoil.

Yet, education will always reflect the visage of its government. What is happening outside the schools will always have a huge bearing in the way schools fare. Schools have enough share of these challenges and Covid-19 has not only closed some schools and made them ineffective, it has killed many teachers.

We still have the challenges of schools that struggle with resources and now we know that the haggling in government will negatively affect the progress in institutions such as schools.

The doors of learning are still ajar and only a few get through and the turbulence happening does not help open these doors for all. We are always discussing issues that do not advance the future of our children.

The questions posed frequently have to do with who got what tenders in the schools, and few of us think about the total opening of the doors.

It is still absurd to think that more than 10 billion was spent for personal protective equipment (PPE). Schools need support for online learning as well as PPEs, certainly, there could have been better ways of planning.

As Covid-19 closes many doors, it has also unmasked the truth that maybe our doors of learning were never opened in the first place.

The Freedom Charter has been betrayed because many children are in the same classroom where their counterparts in 1956 were.

Only the obstinate though can disavow the many changes that have happened in education since the dawn of democracy, but we cannot justify the existence of the two systems of education more than two decades after the dawn of democracy.

There is no justification for children to cross rivers, and sit in hazardous dilapidated classrooms as they search for a better life through education.

There is no justification for children to perish in pit latrines because they come from indigent families in remote villages. There should be consequences to those who squander money and subsequently close the doors of learning. The waste in tenders and self-enrichment is killing education.

We celebrate the learners who have just managed to pass their Grade 12 having sat for their examinations in challenging times. But we also need to think about the future of those who have not made it.

A healthy governance would help all move forward as we encourage the youth towards a future. We have just become numb to the children’s banging on the doors because many other things have surfaced on the tables. We have become a callous society that does not want to invite the children in.

We are focusing on wrong struggles. How magnificent it would be to be on the streets for better curricula and better schools. How enriching it would be to decolonise our schools and fight against epistemicides.

Our battles expose our priorities for we would rather stand up for one person who has squandered resources than make noise for an underdeveloped school in a remote village in Ngcobo, Nongoma and Elim in Limpopo.

When we heard that about 1 600 teachers have died, we knew we were in trouble. As if that was not enough, we heard of more than 100 grade 12 markers who tested positive to Covid-19.

We have also become uncertain as to what will happen this year when it comes to the entire education both basic and higher education. This does not augur well because in education we can really succeed when there is a semblance of order but the virus has unleashed turmoil and gloom.

Right now as thousands of learners have started going to school, debates continue although several of these just blur the future even more.

This is the best time to squabble about the goals of education. This is the most opportune time to discuss what should the future schools look like post-Covid19.

We need to fight more about the shape of home-schooling, possibilities of strengthening online learning and enhancing self-directed learning.

Yet, we still discuss education flippantly, forgetting the future begins with the investment in education. The policy windows are opened and it is the most opportune time to plan and try out the future education we always wanted.

It is also the right time to force open the doors of schools and education. It is the right time for us to forget about shallow dreams while we punish miscreants for the future of young people.

It is a dark future for all schools and this is a reality that must sink although some of us may still refuse to believe that political wrangling will have a negative impact on education.

In December 1941, Dr AB Xuma implored people not to mind being called agitators as long as they know their vision.

Today, we need agitators who will fight for education at all costs for it will never be an unjust cause. Xuma also added that education should never put fear in people but should rather enable people to stand for what is right.

We cannot plan a socially just education if when the Republic is a rotten state. We cannot lead institutions of democracy and justice when our actions are anti-democratic and unjust.

If we agitate, let us continue to agitate against the rotten state and for the future of the youth. If necessary, the doors should be broken; it is a just education and not rot that will redeem the young people.

* Msila works at Unisa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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

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