The hunting season

2012-10-08 00:00

True Stories of KZN

Opinion category finalist

Thankfully the hunting season is over for 2012. Not THE Hunting Season, the other one: The Scholarship Hunting Season. Alpha children and their eager parents can sit back, in smug satisfaction, having achieved their goals. Their goals? To be victorious as a GASH (great annual scholarship hunter).

Where, if you wish to see these sportsmen in action, are you likely to find them? Typically limbering up or hovering nervously over neatly typed summary notes (lovingly prepared by Mum) on scholarship exam days around the ivy-covered portals of our finest South African high schools.

Like traditional hunters a GASH can easily be spotted by his clothing, regalia and stance. Traditional garb includes multiple shiny badges notated as “library”,“choir” and“marimba” down braided lapels. Scrolls are puffed out beneath proud-blazered chests depicting colours in multifarious sporting and academic pursuits. Of course GASH kids have an obvious swagger to compliment these flashy, tasteless accessories.

GASHES are highly trained athletes who have been whisked from Kumon to private swimming coaching by their parents since they could talk. While tradition has ensured that boys predominate the sport, it is not unheard of for girls to participate in the hunt for lower stakes of their own. A GASH mum seldom has a career, her main purpose through the early school years being to train her offspring into peak condition for this high-stakes event, so she has limited time to pursue her own work ambitions. So it goes without saying that if Mum can afford not to work, a typical GASH comes from well-heeled stock.

In every sport there are unscrupulous competitors who won’t adhere to Queensbury Rules (apologies for the mixed sporting metaphors): Indicators of unsporting behavior include last minute pre-event dosing-up on Ritalin, the performance enhancer of choice for such occasions. Also, extraordinarily, in the cases of the best (and not coincidentally best-resourced competitors) it is not unheard of for a GASH to dash between venues in the hopes of scooping the academic equivalent of several Roland Ward records in one year. Rumours abound of a recent incident of a GASH being flown in the family plane to different hunting venues, being offered multiple scholarships by competing schools and then smugly turning down several offers. To boot, a SUPER–GASH of this calibre will vocally pronounce to anyone who cares to hear (and those who don’t), that the announced winner was in fact a sloppy second choice, only succeeding once he had declined the offer.

GASH families cannot be expected to desist from doing what they are exceptionally good at: After all they are encouraged by their prep schools who bask in the reflected light of such gifted scholars. It’s a fantastic free marketing opportunity for the prep schools when they have a scholarship winner. In fairness, GASHES have been clever enough to spot the misguided rules that give them the tactical advantage. Far be it for me to be pious and to maintain the moral high-ground: I am convinced that if I had a healthier appetite for competition (or was better at it) and was less in need of the approval of my friends, I would wish for my kids to compete in this blood sport.

No, ultimately my plea for sensibility lies at the feet of the decision makers in the fine traditional schools of this country. It is no excuse for the rule makers to shrug and say “who was to guess that parental ambition could go this far?” Not in South Africa, not now. Not when these self-same schools survived and thrived through an era of privilege and inequality and now, to assuage the collective guilt of their stakeholders, rightly recognize the need to redress historic imbalances. Not at a time when these great schools have seen a terrifying decline in the state education system, yet they have effectively and bravely remained uncompromising in their pursuit of excellence. The school leaders are the good guys whose moral fibre is intact. Through collaboration, the heads of great schools have halted and even reversed many toxic educational trends.

I repeatedly hear the pleas of the average citizens in our great schools who incredulously question why vast scholarship funds are being directed towards rich kids whose positions of privilege already set them at an enormous advantage. The GASH kids will still go to the great schools anyway, it’s in their DNA to excel, their parents will make sure of it and they were always in a position to pay for their place anyway. Of course I am an idealist, but so are the leaders of all good schools. (That’s why they got to lead them in the first place!) So is it wrong for me to ask, alongside many who want these wonderful schools to do the right thing and to succeed in doing it: “If transformation and diversity is your stated strategic imperative, why are these scholarship funds not being directed towards deserving bursary kids who have excelled under much more adverse circumstances than their scholarship winning peers? Is it not time for every award, for every form of financial assistance, in every great school to be attached to some sort of financial means test? Now surely that would be the educationally responsible thing to do in a country where there is a dire need to develop an educated middle class?”


• Stories by the finalists in our True Stories of KZN competition will be published in The Witness before the winners are announced in the first week of December.

About the writer: 


Nichola Roy tries to be many things: mother, wife, teacher, student, daughter, attorney, sister and friend. All of these pastimes remain convenient excuses for her successful avoidance of achieving her ultimate dream, namely to write that book. She finds happiness in reading and running.

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