Don’t divide our children

2015-05-31 15:00
The right to an education is one of the most fundamental rights and no one should use language to exclude any pupil from school

The right to an education is one of the most fundamental rights and no one should use language to exclude any pupil from school (Leanne Stander)

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I frequently get abuse from people who take the Gauteng education department’s emerging policies out of context.

They think that just because I am a member of the governing ANC, I make one-sided policy adjustments.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

What happened in court this week is an example of how a section of our community, in this case the Federation of Governing Bodies of SA Schools, is resisting cultural assimilation, social integration and cohesion.

A bit of background may help to create context. As part of the reorganisation of our school systems, the department conducted a study of underutilised schools to enrol pupils who cannot find space in schools of their choice, particularly near their homes.

As a result of the study, we are reconfiguring our admission policies to prioritise access to education and advocate dual-medium schools, as opposed to internal admission and language policies.

This week the federation petitioned the courts to rule that schools’ admission and language policies should be taken into account. The body also asked the courts to find that the department could not force schools to become dual medium as it would violate language policies.

It is a pity that the court has ruled in the federation’s favour. The department is of the view that the case brought by the federation is flawed and motivated by concerns that do not accord with our Constitution or the regulatory framework governing education, particularly access to education in our new democracy.

The department is of the view that the learned judge erred in his judgment. I am prepared to go all the way to the Constitutional Court to force such schools to become dual medium, so predominantly Afrikaans schools use two languages to accommodate other pupils.

This not only helps to use school infrastructure, but promotes cultural assimilation, social integration and cohesion.

No child should be denied access to education because of their language. No school shall exclude any learner based on their language. The right to education is one of the most fundamental rights and no one will use language to exclude any pupil from school.

The federation and its supporters are resisting cultural assimilation, social integration and cohesion, which our country desperately needs to build a nonracial society.

Let me concentrate a bit on cultural assimilation.

Firstly, what does it mean to assimilate into a nonracial, nonsexist culture? For me, assimilate means striving in word and deed to be similar.

So, to assimilate means to make yourself similar to the people who are already living in a certain place, whether in Soweto, Sandton, Bedfordview, Katlehong, Midrand or Ivory Park.

Assimilation does not mean to be exactly like the people already there; it means to make yourself similar. It means appreciating and participating in the customs and cultures of the country we live in – a democratic and nonracial South Africa.

Assimilating to a community or culture does not mean that one cannot continue to appreciate and enjoy his or her own cultural and language background, as the federation wants.

To provide a personal example, my family and I are completely assimilated into the culture of the suburb where we live, but we still enjoy and primarily live within the Pedi culture.

These two things are not in conflict with one another. In fact, they make life richer and more rewarding. I can easily move within both cultures.

I believe we should all be bicultural and multilingual, and Gauteng schools should be dual medium. If we can achieve that, it beats the heck out of being monocultural and monolingual.

Remember that assimilation and social cohesion is a process, not an immediate event. We must be patient.

I’ll say it again: We must be patient.

It is not reasonable to expect that we will all assimilate immediately. This lack of patience is where most of us get into trouble – resulting, for example, even in a court case.

Assimilation takes time, my friends. Let’s stay calm and let’s stay realistic. Let’s also remember that assimilating into a culture does not mean we have to throw away our cultures. It simply serves as the backdrop for the fabric of our lives and democratic society. This background gives grace and colour to our existence.

After all, how many of you would really be happy without your favourite cultural meals, such as koeksisters, mngqusho, morogo, magwenya or home-brewed beer?

We are blessed in this country to have 11 official languages. It brings flavour to our society. It will accelerate social integration and cohesion – and, ultimately, cultural assimilation.

As the famous 1970s song so correctly points out: “One is the loneliest number.”

I think it makes good sense to open up the rest of our schools.

Lesufi is MEC for education in Gauteng
Read more on:    panyaza lesufi  |  gauteng  |  education department

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