Guest Column

Curro saga: Segregation is segregation, no matter which way you try to spin it

2015-06-18 14:38

WATCH: Alleged racial segregation at Curro school caught on camera

2015-06-18 08:50

Curro Roodeplaat Private School is under the spotlight again - this time after what appears to be racially segregated classes were caught on camera.WATCH

Alison Visser

The Curro school in Roodeplaat, Pretoria, just can’t seem to shake off the vestiges of apartheid.

You would think that after the last outcry, when an investigation by the Gauteng education department found the institution guilty of racial segregation in its classrooms, the school management and teachers would have taken a long hard look at the situation and tried to change things.

Yet a video released on social media shows children divided according to the colour of their skin while on a field trip two weeks ago.

The school said the division of pupils wasn’t based on race but was “a division legitimately based on the language preference of the class”. Is that even an argument? Segregation is segregation, no matter which way you try to spin it. It’s been happening for decades.

About 25 years ago, I lived in a small mining town. There was one high school. You either had to ride the bus to a school in the nearest city, adding a two-hour round trip commute to an already long day, or you had to suck it up and join the "Dutchies" down the road. That was the way things worked.

Curro Roodeplaat, like my alma mater, is a “parallel-medium school”.

There were about five Afrikaans classes and one English class in each standard. It was the days when “standard” referred to the year of school you were in, and not the level of education your school dished out.

The "Souties" were definitely the minority. I was taught matric maths and accountancy in Afrikaans because there just weren’t enough English students to warrant a class of their own.

The classes started with all the A-students, at A. By the time you got to class E you were dealing with the smokers, the bunkers, those who were scraping through due to their excellent woodwork marks. The English kids were lumped into class F. The rivalry was unsurpassed. The name-calling was legendary.

Half the time we didn’t understand the jibes. It was the way things were. But at least when we went on school outings we didn’t get our own bus.

The children involved in the latest Curro saga are in Grade R. They are five, maybe six years old.

At this young age, according to Curro, they have been taught that there is a bus for “English” pupils and a bus for “Afrikaans” pupils. They may not be divided into race groups, if Curro is to be believed, but they are certainly being divided. This division is problematic. It goes to the heart of South Africa’s divisive history. It teaches children to stick to “their own kind”, not to venture out of their “linguistic” social group.

South Africa’s education system is a complex one. But at the very least we should be teaching our children to embrace the differences they see in others; to learn about different languages, cultures and outlooks. Children go to school in order to learn.

They learn what they are taught. Teachers need to be careful when it comes to their attitudes and what they pass down. Children, especially at a young age, are impressionable.

The situation at Curro is very hard to swallow, especially because the “first” incident, or should that read “the first one that the department of education was aware of”, was so public and the outcry was so intense.

Any reasonable person would have taken a step back and done a bit of introspection. The institution’s ideologies should have been re-examined and the managers should have dedicated themselves to managing the issues and the diversity of the students - something that the rest of South Africa was led to believe they had done.

A research paper published in the SA-eDuc Journal in 2009 acknowledged that racial integration in schools after the fall of apartheid “brought about changes and in many instances crises in the way school leaders perceive the management of their schools”. It was found that “school leaders render reactionary rather than proactive responses to racial integration”.

After the first Curro incident, school managers and teachers across South Africa should have taken a long hard look at themselves, their perceptions and expectations, and the way their institutions operated. They should have implemented measures to ensure that it wouldn’t happen in their schools by getting the pupils and teachers to talk about their own experiences and prejudices.

A 2004 research paper by Linda Chisholm found that “anecdotal evidence suggests that many schools, particularly those in the rural areas, stream learners – officially on the grounds of language, but unofficially on the basis of race and class.”

More than a decade on, South Africa’s schools seem to be stuck in the same rut. How utterly devastating that another generation of school pupils has been subjected to the same old segregation that was in place more than two decades ago.

Parents across South Africa who don’t want the wheel to keep turning in this way have a choice to make. Either stand together and ensure that the rut - and the rot - stops here, or quit work to homeschool your children. But the notion of separate buses for different people should have stopped with Rosa Parks in 1955. And it’s up to parents to make sure their children learn the right things.

Follow me @scribblingal

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