We still can’t look our kids in the eye

2011-09-10 13:19

There are some terrible things happening in education.

Look at the Eastern Cape, where officials cut school nutrition, scholar transport, temporary teachers and the rebuilding of mud schools, because they couldn’t budget properly.

When the national Department of Basic Education correctly intervened, suddenly officials, politicians, the portfolio committee and MEC found the wherewithal to fight back.

Where were they when food was literally taken out of the mouths of school children?

That is when we should have heard their voices.

Thank heavens the president is prepared to intervene.

Recently in Soweto, the principal of Meadowlands High, and president of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union in Soweto, Moss Senye, was charged for allegedly beating a 17-year-old pupil.

When teachers left school during school time to attend court, they failed to intimidate the learner or his mother.

Now there are threats to make Soweto schools ungovernable and to hold matric exams to ransom. Good on the Gauteng Department of Education for refusing to back down.

Let Senye have his day in court, and let him stop pretending to be militant.We need straight talking: if we put issues on the table and avoid arrogance, it should enable people to speak out.

The real controversy is that, so many years after democracy, we talk about education that fails to work; we do not have solutions that enable us to look our young children in the eyes.

We have enormous deficits, enormous backlogs, startling realities from which we must make the education journey.

Things still take a racial dimension. White kids are mostly okay, get through school, get matric, 60% go to university versus 15% of black kids (of the half that even make matric).

We must not blame the kids, black or white, for our historical burden. So many years later, history still matters, race still matters, despite what everyone – especially the young – say.

We are failing our kids. We are not getting the high-level skills our nation needs to compete on the global stage, to find solutions and create a world we have never lived in. Our basics are bad. The Annual National Assessments confirmed what we knew for years.

Our kids don’t get it. We are not teaching basics, to read and count.

A third or less can do sums, can read or are literate. We don’t have jobs for our young, and there are few real alternative vocational options for employment training. We must expect our young, urban or rural, black or white, to be the best.

My only regret is some now use failings to evade responsibility.

Too many businesses say “we can’t create jobs, education is not good enough”, as they fail to give young people first-time work experience.

Too many people blame government – which should indeed take responsibility – only so they can wash their hands of responsibilities.

Sadly, this often includes teacher unions, who correctly point out resources are lacking – that we need labs if we want scientists, that teachers deserve proper staffrooms or decent toilets and running water in schools with telephone lines and roads not riddled with potholes.

But the leap from there to “we can do nothing!” is something I cannot accept.

We cannot expect endless sacrifice. We must fix things that are wrong, and pressure government, officials and politicians to do their jobs.

But we too have to find ways to rise to the occasion.

» This is part of a speech presented to the National Professional Teachers Organisation in North West.

» Bloch is visiting adjunct professor at Wits Public and Development Management School, and author of The Toxic Mix: What is wrong with SA Schools and How to Fix It. graemebloch@gmail.com 

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