The recent announcement by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga that there will not be enough money in the public purse to deal with new salary agreements indicates that despite all the money we seem to pump into our education system, it is hugely underfunded.
The recent announcement by the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga that there will not be enough money in the public purse to deal with new salary agreements indicates that despite all the money we seem to pump into our education system, it is hugely underfunded. It does not help, of course, that teachers had to deal with this disappointment while Motshekga’s counterpart in the Ministry of Higher Education made headlines for obtaining a luxury car for government business.
However, these money challenges notwithstanding, the solutions towards eradicating the chronic problems faced by our education system are by no means only financial. In fact we can go so far as to say that, because of the huge constraints faced by the South African fiscus, we cannot look to money alone to effectively transform our education system. While the material inequality between schools remains a striking and disturbing unresolved legacy of racist apartheid policies, perhaps more devastating was that the deliberate entrenchment of an unequal and ideologically-driven education system destroyed respect for schools. It choked out the love of teaching and learning for millions of people who had no choice but to attend schools that were deliberately underdeveloped.
Poverty, political repression, and systemic violence in black communities turned schools into battlegrounds. This provided fertile soil for poor teaching practice and ill-discipline among learners and teachers to take root. Many pupils from those schools who went on to become teachers and trained at equally inadequate colleges, got back into the classroom and so the system reproduced itself. Worse still, many parents who have not been educated do not see themselves as playing an active and central role in defining schools. They see this as the sole job of the teachers whom they hold as authorities.
The resultant effect? A schooling system where the chain of accountability among the main stakeholders – parents, learner, teachers, and state – barely exists, and where it does, struggles to hold. It is no wonder, for example, that reports of teachers taking the day off during pay day to do their shopping abound. Learners regularly skip classes, vandalism is rife, never mind the harrowing stories of crime and violence.
So if we put aside the problem of money for one moment, a more critical challenge for is to be able to answer the following questions, taken from general observations in our communities:
-Why is it hard to fire teachers who consistently fail to perform their professional duties?
-Why are so many school governing bodies dysfunctional and what will it take to fix them?
-When will the major teacher unions and the state act firmly and decisively on the many teachers we know of in our communities who have sexual relationships with learners?
-What is the role of school inspectors and why do so many schools appear neglected?
-How will we get parents and guardians to realise that their children’s education is a human right and it is their duty to guard over it?
These questions point not to the problem of resources, but to the very soul of the schooling system. One way to address these complex challenges is form a broad-based movement of learners, teachers, parents and other citizens who can focus on these issues at both the local and the national levels over the next decade. To this end, the Save Our Schools and Community Campaign (Sosac) was formed to begin addressing these problems in the Eastern Cape. We have joined forces with Equal Education, a growing movement of learners and parents in the Western Cape to spearhead a number of campaigns aimed at tackling both policy related issues, but also the very culture of learning itself.
We are embarking on a campaign to promote the love of reading and the provision of libraries at all our schools. We ask you to join us in our efforts to reinvigorate the love of learning and teaching in schools. Farouk Abrahams coordinates SOSAC and Xolile Madinda is a member of Grahamstown’s Fingo Revolutionary Movement. Email SOSAC2008@gmail.com for more information.