National responsibility

2011-01-06 00:00

BY the time you read this national­ matric results will be out. If they are anythin­g like they have always been, they will trigger a national blame game.

We will read and hear about why teacher unions, the South African­ Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) in particular, must shoulder the blame. Others will place it squarely in the laps of indifferent parents while the hedonistic youth culture will explain why our young fail as dismally as they have done. Afrikaans rights movement Afriforum has persuasively argued that learning in a mother tongue makes a difference in how pupils do in matric and academe in general.

Matric is yet another wealth and social gap barometer. It is the snapshot of the racial and class pecking order of South African society­.

This is why we would have seen that as usual, children from Independent Education Board schools, shorthand for wealthy, mainly white children, would achieve the best results. They recorded a 98% pass rate.

Those from middle-class schools — former Model C schools — will have the second best on the list of achievers. At the bottom of the pile will be township and rural schools, which invariably are 100% black and are of working class and peasantry stock.

In keeping with this fine tradition, one or two schools from the last group, who would have bucked the trend and produced good results, will be pulled out as examples of what hard work can do when people stop whingeing about the past. The rest will be encouraged to go back to class and pull up their socks and work hard.

It is time we stopped this pantomime. The education system continues to fail the majority of children, especially those who come from the constituencies that are most loyal to the governing party, and all we can come up with are the same set of people to blame every year.

Matric results are testament to the income inequalities that are themselves symptoms of the systematic­ inequalities of South African society. What is even sadder is that another generation of youngsters will be unleashed onto the streets without any meaningful skills to speak of and that there does not seem to be a plan in place to correct this.

Unlike with the national health insurance, we do not know what the state thinks about what a universal education system will look like or how much it will cost. It is as if the state has a vested interest in keeping the majority uneducated or insufficiently educated.

The history of racial supremacy bolsters what seems like a self-

evident fact that white pupils are either smarter or they work harder because they are always top of the heap with distinctions that you need both hands to count without taking into account the kinds of schools and communities the average­ black child will have come from.

The middle-classes and the rich sit in their comfortable houses blaming poor parents for not giving enough attention to their children's schoolwork, conveniently forgetting that those parents are in their houses looking after other people's children or are working in factories toiling­ away for meagre­ wages while they (middle- class parents) find time to watch their young at a speech contest or rugby match.

So instead of meeting its responsibilities, the state finds succour in blaming the poor results on everyone else except itself. Like a father who pays maintenance at the Family Court, it thinks that throwing money at the issue is the sum total of its responsibility.

It is not the fault of the rich and the middle classes that they have access to better education and want the same for their offspring. It is not their fault too that they live in communities where achievement and professional success are the norm rather than the exception or that they realise the role of parental support is to give their children confidence to take on the real world one day.

But it is equally not the fault of the children born in squatter camps that they start their lives with the odds stacked against them. They, too, deserve an education system that gives them a fair chance in life.

Sadtu's destructive influence is a factor in the type of education that children at schools get where the union has a presence. Working-class parents must show more interest in the school lives of their children than they currently do and youngsters must realise that individual agency plays an important role in determining one's life chances.

But there must surely be something wrong when education success or failure correlates so starkly with the race and class of the pupil. As we enter into the 17th year of democracy we must demand that our government do better to break this intergenerational cycle of wealth and poverty.

We have had enough piecemeal policies where the curriculum is changed here and there. We need a comprehensive blueprint with time frames, execution plans and clear outcomes. We need an NHI for the education system where being poor does not lessen your chances of the often repeated promise of a better life for all.

There may be better ways of getting out of the social rut in which that the majority of South Africans find themselves, but education is by far the most proven. If the state is serious about the poorest and the most under performing schools it must start to show it and not just keep regurgitating promises.

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