Creating a division in schools

2009-06-03 00:00

THE opening of former Model C schools posed a lot of challenges for teachers who were used to teaching only one racial group. Many of these teachers have done a wonderful job and children speak of them as if they are members of their extended families. This mix of cultures assists in the reconciliation of future generations and peace between all races in South Africa.

However, the same cannot be said of a minority of former Model C schools. Throughout the year, the Education Department is inundated with stories of questionable treatment of some pupils in these schools. African pupils have to bear cultural exclusion, continued taunts and negative remarks about the country and government policies. It is made difficult for the children to register, mingle with others and even to receive a proper education.

These children continue to suffer silently for fear of victimisation, while complaining is frowned upon as a lack of appreciation for quality education. They have to prove themselves worthy of this new environment. One child said: “We are reminded that we come from townships and that we are lucky to be here.”

This battle begins when parents seek admission for their children. The principal and the school governing body sometimes flatly refuse admission to certain children, citing as reasons: “poor English language”, “not living in the area” or “applied late” — even though it can be proven the parent applied for admission a year before.

Instead of using the language policy, they concoct new theories about how to assist children who may not be proficient in English.

Some of the reports that are brought to the Education Department claim that children are separated into classes according to their proficiency in English. This is supposedly done to accelerate their English. This practice, however, results in children of one race sitting in a separate class.

Other cases deal with schools that refuse to employ a teacher to teach in the language of many pupils. A case in point is the recent one of Mrs N. Nkosi versus Durban Boys High School. Her long and protracted fight for her child to be taught in Zulu as a first language eventually paid off when the court found in her favour.

The above issues are confirmed in a study by the South African Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) that found that some teachers practise “racism manifested in rhetoric, name calling, stereotyping, labels”. It further found that children suffer “anxieties in the classroom, corridors, playgrounds and [during] extracurricular events. Many [pupils] try to trivialise incidents; others are resigned to them.”

Every year education officials and the attorneys of parents have to deal with cases in which pupils are suspended or expelled without proper disciplinary procedures having been followed. Some of these cases relate to children having different cultural backgrounds and a possible lack of knowledge, while others include conflict over cultural adornment or religious attire.

In many instances, such schools do not show commitment to achieving a racial mix of their teaching staff, even though the pupils may be predominantly African.

What is interesting are the lists of requirements in advertisements for, for example, Xhosa, Zulu or Sotho language teachers. These can include a knowledge of swimming, ballet dancing, hiking and piano.

In these and many other subtle, yet traumatising ways, children are exposed as guinea pigs of transformation.

The sad story about all these issues is that there is no attempt to reconcile pupils of different racial backgrounds and this blemishes the sterling work and results being produced by many other multiracial schools all over the country.

I fear that the continuation of this culture by such schools creates more of a division between our children. Considering the research by the HSRC and other agencies, I feel that it is time that the law is applied to stop such situations.

• Dr Sipho Lombo is a senior manager for the Eastern Cape Department of Education. He writes in his personal capacity.

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