Teach our children well

2010-01-21 00:00

IF we want to turn around black education, we must start by changing prevailing anti-learning attitudes.

This is compounded by a lack of political will by our leaders to do something beyond mouthing off rhetoric, wrong government priorities and absentee black parents.

There does not appear to be a sense of urgency from the government to act decisively to tackle the education crisis. Introducing short cuts, such as downgrading pass marks, is an indication of the lack of seriousness.

There is a link between the rampant anti-intellectualism in the country, and the poor matric results. In dominant political circles, knowledge is rarely appreciated. In poorer black communities, education is not seen strongly enough as a way out of poverty.

And the fact that many black pupils see former matriculants wandering townships streets, unemployed, because they did not graduate with the right sort of subjects — mathematics, science or commerce — or perform well enough, does not help.

No developing country since World War 2 industrialised without educating the masses. South Korea, Singapore and now China’s prosperity is based on educating their nations.

Education is the single most effective black economic empowerment strategy, or redistribution tool to reverse the crippling apartheid legacy of deliberately underdeveloping black communities. The continued slide in black education entrenches apartheid patterns.

A minority who are in private schools, mostly white, and a small black middle class, receive education that can compare with the best in the world. The majority, overwhelmingly black, get the worst education imaginable, leaving them without the skills to navigate the world of work.

At this rate, blacks will continue to do the menial work and whites will manage the sophisticated parts of the economy. But the lack of skilled blacks is not only a drain on the economy; black resentment, anger and powerlessness because of economic marginalisation is a ready time bomb.

The election of Jacob Zuma as ANC leader and South African president, and Julius Malema as ANC Youth League president (and annointed by Zuma as future ANC president) show that anyone, no matter how sparse his or her education, can make it to the most influential positions in the country.

Yet, the flipside could also easily send out the message that education does not matter. One can advance without education, but only if one joins the ANC, becomes a loyal cadre, or links up with a local party boss, and stays loyal to him or her, and so on.

In most of the East Asian economic tigers, including China, almost every second politician is an engineer, scientist or a commerce graduate.

The current way in which the ANC’s deployment system is being frequently mani­pulated means that even if someone has an impeccable education, one can be bypassed for a job in the public sector if one is not connected to dominant party bosses. Jobs are frequently given to those who are, even if they lack the competency. They just need to be politically connected.

To expect delivery on promises for better education without parents, communities and civil groups keeping the pressure on government and teachers, is just silly. As black parents, we accept too much medio­crity from our government.

Often a township school will be left without windows or a toilet, while the local councillor or politician who is supposedly representing the constituency drives a R1,2-million car.

Those parents who can, must be more involved, not only in tracking the progress of their children, but also by putting greater pressure on schools and the government to improve schools.

Yet, the reality is that most black parents in poor communities cannot effectively support their children. We must find ways to support them. School hours must be extended and more aftercare support given to schools in poor communities. Poor families who have children at school must be given a basic income grant. In return, recipients of such grants can be asked to guard, clean or offer general support to schools.

Good teachers must be rewarded by the government, communities and parents. Slack ones should be disciplined. It is not the trade union’s job to protect poor teachers just because they are members of the union. It is the union’s job to see that the quality of teachers — its members — is high.

Business must adopt poor schools, instead of appointing token politicians to boards and striking meaningless BEE deals with the politically connected. The government must provide resources to teachers and schools on time — and govern better.

• William Gumede is co-editor (with Leslie Dikeni) of the recently released The Poverty of Ideas.

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