Schools: a window of opportunity and wonder or a pyramid of failure.
Published: October 7, 2016

Change and Choice in South African Schools

My own sentiments, expressions and thoughts in this paper have drawn heavily upon words, feelings, facts and figures from The New Internationalist: The Great Education scandal and a wonderful book called: Daring to be a Teacher By Robin Richardson.

We have barely begun the debate in South Africa. We have made Action plans and drawn up National Development Plan, world class documents for dispensation of education.

However! If education in the Northern Hemisphere is considered a scandal – and as I read the unfolding of injustices and inequalities, I kept wondering: What would we call the state of education in South Africa?

Every time, I visit a rural school, a farm or a squatter camp school, I break out in a cold sweat or uncontrollable tears. An imminent and ominous feeling of doom and gloom takes hold in my gut. Would we ever truly be able to fix any kind of future for these children of free South Africa?

Granted that the mechanics and technicalities of change are complex – but I have not seen much change in these schools over the past 5 years. Why not? Time and again, I have come to only one conclusion.

It is not simply up to the government.

It is not going to change as a result of some policies from the minister. Years of deficit and deprivation, neglect and ostracism, have left their marks much too deep.

It is only going to happen because you and I and us – we will all make it happen?

Kodak images of snapshots of hope of improvement can be found in corporate magazines, educational posters available from any provincial department, NGO magazines and the like.

Does the deceptive colour mean improvement?

IF Blair from Britain declared his priorities during his campaign to be: Education, Education and Education. I am wondering. Considering the state of our schools, what would be appropriate for President Zuma to declare?

So what can we do? How do we inspire ourselves, our teachers and our children? Here is an Action Plan for your school and yourselves.

Know the facts of our positioning in the world – the state of our children and our education spending. Our position in the big wide world is totally depressing. As I am a mathematics educator, I tend to look at facts and figures in mathematical pictures. Here is one of the first difficulties.

Our starting point is so low – probably the lowest in the world. I am sure you have seen the TIMMS graphs. Check out on the internet. Let us say we decide that in the next 5 years we wish to move up five places. What are the steps for each and every educator, trainer and district officer?

Know that no nation can go into its future confident and competent if its children are not getting a fair deal. Make Education the yard-stick of success of any government.

Take control of your own professional development

Attend as many workshops as you can find, does not really matter who conducts them? It is crucial that you engage in a dialogue and simply be “TAUGHT” by someone who thinks that they know. Policy documents cannot teach you, cannot train you. They merely state what is desirable. Attend workshops, seminars, conferences. Next time you see that pretty looking suit in the shops – don’t buy it. Spend that money on your professional development. TIME? Really! It won’t hurt your husband to make his own dinner or your children to get their own supper or whatever.

Get access to a computer. Learn to fund raise. Enroll the support of a local NGO.

Always share developments with a colleague. It will multiply like rice grains on a chess board. Sharing is so much better than a cascade model. Groups work much better than individuals in a time of change. If group work is essential for our learners isn’t teamwork and group work essential for us as adults?

Every term, make at least four new gains in your professional development within the context of the curriculum. You will have made 16 new gains in 4 terms. Just think.

Learn about the bigger picture.

Believe that development first and foremost means the development of the human mind, the skills, and the knowledge base.

Julius Nyerere said:

“ Education is not a way of escaping country’s poverty. It is a way of fighting it.”

I say to you: Look around you. Look at the history. Poverty and ignorance are created paradigms. Redundant and entrenched views on how the poor and the disadvantaged behave, learn, live etc. are all created paradigms. All can therefore be shifted. If you do nothing, then you are equally guilty in perpetuating the same old story.

There are basically 3 kinds of people in this world —

  • Those who observe the changes with time and humanity.
  • Those that commit to making changes to humanity’s state.
  • And those who hide. 

What is your choice?

Decisions are not simply taken. They have to be carried out. Complacency, passiveness, fear, procrastination are born either out of feelings of helpless-ness and despair or complete indifference and self-centred way of being.

Whether you say: What can I do? OR at least I did something OR I have a deep desire to do something but – are all pitiful excuses for doing nothing. At no time of your life as educationists can you feel satisfied that your task is done. Little drops of water add up to cause a flood. So cause a flood. Get into a position of influence. Of course it is not easy. Who said it was? Organise and set goals. The bigger picture is so complex.

Could you ever really come to a point where your professionalism is completely developed?

And of course teaching is risky, dangerous, challenging and hazardous.

It is also a blanket of comfort that some can hide under and do. Tucked 100s of kilometers away from the main line education administration, who is going to know what standards are you setting? What quality teaching and learning environments are you creating? So you carry on day after day – doing the bare minimum in your comfort zone. You come home and you talk about – our dilapidated schools; the government, the community, and someone, somewhere will point fingers at you and say: The Teacher’s fault; The teachers today: and you will point fingers at the children: The children today ———-.

And so it will carry on, without humanity, dignity and integrity.

Teachers and parents are constantly bashed around by the stresses and demands made upon them by the young in their care. Large number of young people all over the world are being sucked into an irritating oscillation, between mindless, shapeless, loveless, visionless rebellion, verbally violent declarations of destructive responses to the ills of society and yet complete paralysis of action.

And then there is the silent world of our learners in our rural and farm schools. Their fragile and vulnerable communities have already been touched by the onslaught of the Bold and the Beautiful, Generations, moronic arcade games and McDonalds. As you drive along South Africa’s roads, even in the remotest places, Coca Cola is king. And our children will become pawns in the chess game of multinationals, the new imperialism, swallowing the whole globe, with our willing participation, placing our children and our futures for sacrifice to the new gods – the mantle of new enslavement, of our minds that is.

Poverty and ignorance, as I said are created paradigms. Turn it on its head: Use a can of coke or a banana or a bag of tea, as a stimulus to teach any area of the curriculum. Where does Coke come from? Who benefits? What do the workers get? Where and how do their families live?

Partner with your local district or area managers – make demands on them. It is your right. Show them that you are prepared to do anything to improve matters in your school and they must help. Do not take NO for an answer. First of all make certain that you are prepared to make a sustained effort.

Next time you go on strike and demonstrations for pay – I know it is your right – but just once ask yourself:

  • When was the last time, I demonstrated for the sake of the children?
  • For eradicating poverty?
  • For putting an end to child abuse?
  • For ensuring the bare minimum of conditions of learning environments?
  • Demanding the bare minimum of resources for my learners? OR
  • Did you simply wait and hope that they will come to you?

If young people really mattered to you, wouldn’t you take some action?

No one individual has definitive answers – but together you can move mountains. May sound like a cliché – and yet the world’s history is full of examples.

Develop and follow an Action Plan for at least one whole school project every term to improve some aspects of your school through the local government.

Set an achievable target. No matter how small. If you do not have water, designate somebody, a member of the community to lobby the water board, whoever and get water.

Do the same for sanitation-education, for electricity, for science labs, for a sports ground, for an assembly hall ————–

Make your voice heard. While your farm school or rural school is rotting and decaying even further – some rich school in the city has had a tennis court built. Why can they do it and not you? Do you have a strong committed governing body? Get one together.

     The department is not going to write a school development plan for you or get together a powerful SGB or write a whole school policy or a funding proposal. You must do it.

Raise awareness in the community (Farming and Rural community in particular).

For so many of children and teachers, no shackles have been broken, no silences sabotaged, no liberation from the entrapments of poverty.

Why not make changes happen? Every community has some well to do people. Pick a focus month to highlight, raise funds and make at least one major improvement campaign. Such as:

  • Classrooms for our school
  • Make schools safe campaign – such as repairing the windows and painting the walls.
  • Let there be light in our schools campaign
  • Develop School to School Solidarity Links – of advantaged schools really want to help, they can donate some resources. Some of our schools are so small. They don’t need much.
  • Have a relay race to raise funds Call it: Pass the torch of learning

Whenever I get invited to speak in such forums, multiplicity of awards are always being presented for sportsmanship. Occasionally, there maybe a few awards for excellence at maths and science, innovative projects in technology. I do hope that MCIS trainers are introducing new aspirations and ambitions and sustainable changes.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

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