In education, SA has got a thing or two to learn from other regional and overseas countries. The educational history of South Africa is very different and therefore hardly comparable to other countries anywhere in the world. When freedom was ushered into SA in the mid-90’s, the educational system for the majority black South Africans was in disarray having inherited an inferior Bantu educational system for black people in public institutions. Predominantly black Universities were underfunded. Bantu education was deliberately crafted and designed to keep the black majority down and excluded by barring access to a substantive and viable educational curriculum.
Bantu education had to be abandoned completely and replaced. It was. Fast forward to 2015, the last twenty years in SA, on the educational landscape represents two decades of missed opportunities. In 1994, when SA became a free and democratic nation, SA should have initiated its own decade of free primary education and subsidized secondary and post secondary education. Today, in SA 2015 would have been a year of celebrating a critical mass of 26 year olds equipped with skills to take on industry and commerce and learning from the bottom up through apprenticeship programmes.
The missionary school system that was not allowed to thrive during apartheid and therefore it failed to serve communities during the pre-freedom era and therefore outlying, predominantly rural areas were compromised. In an effort to keep down black people as laborers, good education remained the preserve of the whites both outside the homelands. As a result the utilization of the missionary school system as an alternative system of education for the marginalized majority was yet another missed opportunity.
This inequality and skewed allocation of resources continues in todays’ SA. For example, Spaull’s research conducted in 2014, “Grade 6 students in the poorest 75% of schools in SA performed significantly worse in literacy and numeracy than Grade 6 students in the wealthiest 25% of schools. The trend is similar for Grade 9 students, where students in the poorest 80% of schools achieved substantially lower results in Maths and Science compared to students in the wealthiest 20% of schools.”
In yet another case of the blind perpetuation of the inequalities of the past, in February 2015, Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), was hit by student protests because of the escalating debt amongst students and the provision that demanded students to remain unregistered unless thy pay the registration fee of R1,500 (US$129) and settle any prior years’ debt. TUT was born out of a 2004 merger between the historically white, well-resourced Pretoria Technikon and Technikon Northern Gauteng and Technikon North-West, both historically black polytechnics located in poor areas outside the city. Another student gripe is the huge facility inequalities amongst the six TUT campuses.
Student debt amongst black students has been escalating. According to a University World News article by Makoni in February 2015, “student debt soared by 84%, from R134 million in 2013 to R237 million in 2014 (US$11.5 million to US$20.4 million). Although students were allowed to register, the institution was rocked by another long protest action due to insufficient funds for students who qualified for National Student Financial Aid Scheme, or NSFAS, bursaries and loans.” The spate of protests and riots that has rocked Universities of the Witwatersrand, KwaZulu Natal and other universities, subsequent to the TUT protests, has been more or less about the same issues.
As if pouring fuel to a runaway fire, post – freedom SA has seen the Education ministries bulking to political pressure and as a result, they have resorted to watering down the educational standards for political expediency. In SA, there has been an adjustment to what constitutes a pass rate in addition to tweaking the curriculum for many to get through. Even at tertiary institutions, at some point in time in the late 90s to the early 2000s, faculty staff were being advised to separate content issues from language issues since English, the main language of instruction at most universities is not the mother tongue of black people.
The reality is, there is no free tertiary education in many establishments across the world. The least SA can hope to achieve is to aim for universal primary education for all. SA ought to have its decade of free primary education and subsidized secondary education because ultimately, it is education that is the panacea for the many ills currently holding the country at siege. With adequate investments in education for its children, education increases hope and diminishes hopelessness in a country rampant with helplessness amongst the uneducated poor majority.
When citizens possess adequate competencies, knowledge and skills, they know that their desire for a better life is attainable and will choose good citizenship over criminality. Eventually if the necessary and considered investments are made in education in SA, it will reduce the high dependence on social grants saving the fiscus millions which in turn can be reinvested in education. Education alone, is the one big intervention that will give South Africans hope for a better life whilst creating an inclusive society devoid of the many ills currently bedeviling the country.
Author: Gloria Ndoro