Sibongile Mafu

Back to school, back to harsh realities

2013-01-16 10:32

Sibongile Mafu

Schools in coastal provinces re-open today, following the return to school of the inland provinces last week, ending the two- month break we've all given government around the issues education faces. The cycle starts again.

Keeping score

The public will be awoken once again to the real challenges education in this country faces, and the government will have to scramble, textbooks in tow to make sure 2013 is not as drama-filled as 2012 was.

Opposition parties will be happily (or unhappily) keeping score as to how many schools get what they need in time, and we'll just fall short of blaming African time for any delays. Punctuality is unAfrican of course. But we'll also again be confronted with what many students are going back to - very little.

My parents have both been teachers (in township schools) for decades, so I always feel like I have been incredibly close to the difficult questions around education, and the astounding challenges that seem to grow more urgent every year. They have been teaching in schools that have had very little for a very long time. They could have easily left and taught in more comfortable surroundings, but chose to stay because of loyalty, love for their schools, the kids and maybe that dogged stubbornness that many teachers have to change the world - those typical, sentimental genes that most teachers are born with.

It doesn't make sense

But who willingly chooses to wake up and go to a class when there is often no guarantee of a door or windows, where students often choose not to show up, where you organise parent-teacher meetings sans parents and where you constantly have to find enterprising ways to teach in a space where teaching is the very last thing that the environment fosters?

Even though I was fortunate enough to attend schools with everything I needed, I never once felt like I didn’t know what it was like for other black children like me. When my mom would tell me stories about the environment she teaches in, I couldn’t understand why we were not all taught in the same kind of spaces. Why were libraries and computer rooms standard at some schools and not at others?

It did not make sense to me that I had to leave where I lived, get on a highway, and travel to a nice school far away.  In that time I’d  pass all the poor kids who just didn’t make the cut and had to unfortunately settle to being taught in a school close to where they live.

So much needs to be done

My mom would often take me to meet some of the students who she taught; especially the bright ones who were doing well in class despite the difficult circumstances. Looking back, I wonder why she did that. To inspire me? To make me feel like I was in a privileged position? Or maybe to realise that the world sometimes closes up around you, and you have to pry it open just like those youngsters did.

These are the stories that always amaze me. The young people who are able to prosper, even in situations that no human being should be allowed to exist in.

Really great teachers cannot hide the fact that there is still an incredible amount of work that needs to be done. We cannot always look to people (who are paid very little) to bend over backwards, trusting that they'll love teaching and their jobs and who will stick around in painful circumstances that offer very little support.

Maybe I now fully understand why my mom one told me: "Don't be a teacher. You want to be happy and sane, don't you?"

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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