Picture:  Wokandapix/Pixabay
Picture: Wokandapix/Pixabay

How Morris Isaacson High produced best education amidst apartheid's brutal grip

By Tebogo Monama Time of article published Jun 15, 2020

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Many people know the role Morris Isaacson High School played in the historic June 16, 1976, Soweto student uprisings.

But few people know the history of the school and the role it played in building up Soweto's middle class.

This is the history Wits University Professor Clive Glaser wants people to remember while at the same time celebrating the political role the institution has played.

Glaser, a historian, who has done extensive research on the school, said: “It is amazing that despite the terrible conditions of Bantu Education and living in a very poor neighbourhood in Soweto, they actually provided a very decent quality of education, especially from the 1960s and 1970s.

“They produced dozens of doctors and engineers and teachers. They produced a big chunk of Soweto's middle class in the 1960s and 1970s and even in the 1980s when everything around them was collapsing, they managed to keep going and get good students through the system.”

The school started out as Mohloding School in 1956 and under the leadership of principal Derek Kobe was relocated to its current location in Jabavu.

“Derek Kobe got in touch with the Morris Isaacson Trust and negotiated the expansion of the school and conversion into a full high school and changed its name. The government was incredibly stingy, especially about secondary schooling.

"Bantu Education was willing to open new primary schools, because they saw the need to provide a low level of skills for the working class, but not interested in high levels of skills,” Glaser said.

The state, he said, however allowed communities to raise the money privately to build schools, and they would then pay the salaries of the teachers.

“There was a powerful culture of learning. Students used to meet on Saturdays and had extra classes. Especially because their home environments were difficult to work in.

"The kind of people who went there were very determined to work their way up and get degrees. It's not a coincidence that politics emerged there, because there was a culture of reading and getting people to learn about their world,” Glaser said.

Glaser said things started turning for the worst for township schools in the 80s.

“The 80s were a very formative moment in township schools. The culture of learning got destroyed. I think because people were gatvol with Bantu Education and discrimination.

"The whole teaching profession lost its prestige. The period before 1976 teachers really were at the top of their communities. They were people looked up to and hugely respected.

“Politics undermined the respect of teachers. People who worked within the Bantu Education system were considered almost collaborators. Ironically, because the colour bar was starting to be relaxed meant that talented blacks who got degrees could do other things other than teaching,” Glaser said.

As former Model C schools also opened up for black learners, parents who could afford it sent their children out of the township.

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