The F-word: Education’s indeed an essential service

2013-02-10 10:00

At the beginning of this school year, I took my children to my old high school, Daliwonga Secondary in Dube, Soweto.

It was not meant to be a tour of pride. It was to help them appreciate some of the things that suburban, middle class children tend to take for granted.

Overall, the school looks as challenged as it was when I was there.

My children could not believe that the school – whose most famous old boy is football legend Doctor Khumalo – does not even have a proper field and has to play “home” matches at neighbouring Mofolo. But such was and remains Daliwonga. Even the graffiti – 1990 The Year of Action – still adorns the walls.

On the upside, there were posters everywhere proudly declaring that the school had achieved a 94% matric pass rate, higher than Bhukulani Secondary School in Zondi, which has over the years enjoyed the status of being the best high school in Soweto.

Daliwonga is not unique in its poverty and willingness to overcome its challenges.

City Press reported recently on Meyisi Senior Secondary School in Eastern Cape, where 153 children share a classroom.

Friends and colleagues on Facebook and Twitter were competing about who had the worst experience during their schooling years. One “boasted” that in his class, they were so overcrowded that pupils (that’s what they were in those days) could not even stand up straight when rising to answer a question. Yet his head holdsone of the most beautiful minds I have encountered.

So stripped of the legalistic terminology, there can be no doubt that education is an essential service. Not even Sadtu would contest the essentiality of education.

And whatever the ANC meant or wherever it is with the idea, no sane person can deny that South Africa’s education is in shambles. As Daliwonga, Meyisi and hundreds of schools in villages and townships can attest, the governing party is not innocent insofar as the bad state of education is concerned. It has not always treated education as an essential service.

It was the state that did not deliver textbooks in Limpopo. It was the same party that refused to make a call when a standoff between Sadtu and the Eastern Cape education boss caused a shutdown for months.

It is never too late though.

But to achieve best results, an honest assessment of what is wrong with education is necessary. To pretend that if teachers do not strike all will be well is to be in denial. Teachers’ apathy and propensity to down chalks at the slightest excuse is one but not the only contributing factor.

One of the shortcomings of this debate is that it limits education to pupils. It pretends that the rest of South Africans have skills that not only enable them to make a meaningful living, but also to contribute intelligently to society.

We do not just need to make education an essential service; we need an education revolution. We must show the same zeal for everyone getting or bettering their education as we do for knowing your HIV status. An education revolution is one of a few ways that can mitigate the spectre of helplessness of the old and the fatalism of the young, while at the same time dealing with social ills and contributing to the economy.

We have to arrest the generational curse of families that are unlikely to see a graduate among their kin, but are all too familiar with their teenage sons ending up dead on a street corner or in jail.

An education revolution must make it abnormal that young, pregnant daughters wonder how they will take care of their babies when they themselves have made friendship with hunger.

Making education essential must not be confined to its legal meaning. We have to make it commonplace to have a 60-year-old like Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse or a Chomee returning to school to complete their high school or earn a degree.

It cannot be too late for us as a nation and as individuals to be what we could have been.

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