Cape Town school apologises after Grade 7s asked to make slave auction poster as 'fun activity'

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A picture of the class assignment.
A picture of the class assignment.
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  • A Cape Town history teacher will undergo sensitivity training after giving Grade 7 pupils the "fun" task of making a poster to advertise slaves. 
  • "We regret what has happened," says principal of Parklands College secondary faculty Sylvia Steyn.
  • The assignment reads: "Fun Activity - Advertisements were placed in newspapers to advertise the slave auction that would be taking place."

Parklands College in Cape Town has apologised after Grade 7 pupils were asked to make a poster advertising a slave auction in the 1800s as a "fun activity" in history class.

According to the assignment - titled "Fun Activity" - pupils were given the following instructions:

"You will create an advertisement regarding a slave trade auction that will be taking place on Friday, 24 April 1835. You will have 30 minutes to create the advert and have it posted in the assignment link shared on Google class today. 

"The person with the best advertisement will get a Cadbury slab of chocolate when we get back to school. 

"This is a fun activity and it will not count for marks. Be creative and have some fun."

An outraged mother drew attention to the project, and also posted a picture containing two sample advertisements the children were given.

READ HERE | Gauteng teacher, who allegedly threatened to put knee on pupils' necks, to face hearing this week

Midstream College in Gauteng also had a similar assignment.

Prinicipal Carel Kriek told News24 that the assignment, in which grade 7 pupils were asked to create a poster for an upcoming slaverly auction in 1614, was withdrawn by the school after parents raised concerns. 

Kriek said the school had launched an internal investigations into the matter.

"The assignment was issued before lockdown and pupils were expected to hand it last week. We have explained to many people and apologised to those who are offended. I don’t think the intention of CAPS for slavery topic is to put anyone in a bad light to play one race against the other.

"It is something that we are supposed to do as a primary school. We removed it three years ago and Umalusi forced us to put it back in our curriculum,” said Kriek.

Gauteng Department of Education Steve Mabona said they are aware of the matter and have also launched an investigation. 

'We regret what happened'

In Cape Town, the principal of the college's secondary faculty, Sylvia Steyn, explained that the "young and inexperienced" 31-year-old teacher explained afterwards that he wanted to consolidate the lesson about the trans-Atlantic slave trade. 

READ HERE | Cape Town schoolteacher gives Grade 7 learners ‘slave trade auction’ activity – parents outraged

"We regret what has happened," said Steyn.

"I acknowledge that it was an error in judgment and he should never have called it a fun activity, which is what it says at the end of the presentation," said Steyn. 

"If he wanted them to make a poster he should have said [they should] focus on the injustices of slave trade. I understand that no excuse is good enough. I understand that hurt was caused and I acknowledge that. We are dealing with it the best way that we can." 

Steyn said the teacher will be undergoing sensitivity training, and so will all of the staff at the upmarket independent school when the rest of the classes resume. 

READ | Coronavirus: 18 Western Cape schools closed for cleaning after positive cases

"It was never intended... he didn't think it through properly," said Steyn.

"I understand that it has caused a lot of hurt."

She said that, in her first statement on the matter, her inexperience with social media meant that she focused on being concise, instead of dealing with the injustice of the slave trade. So, she issued a second statement acknowledging it was unacceptable.

READ | Anxious pupils return to school

The teacher began last September at the school.

"He's young and inexperienced. And he's horrified because his intention wasn't to cause hurt."

Steyn said the teacher merely wanted to keep the pupils' attention while teaching remotely during lockdown.  

The assignment was in April, and Steyn understands that the chocolate bar was awarded.

Backlash

She said the backlash has been "horrendous", with phone calls at 02:00, but she welcomes the discussion.

"We are all learning valuable lessons during this time," said Steyn.

"I am the first one to acknowledge that I come from white privilege and that we have made mistakes in the past, but we are trying to rectify it as we go along and we are open to discussion," said Steyn.

"We want to do the right thing. We are proud of our school and our past learners who have done very well. And I'm willing to answer questions and to have discussions, and to see what we can do to rectify mistakes that we have made in the past."

ALSO READ | Children kept out of school won't be deregistered - Motshekga

She said she could not reveal the teacher's name, on the advice of the labour lawyer advising the school on the issue.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) said it could not comment on independent schools' content. 

"The WCED has limited oversight on particular matters, e.g. [SA Council for Educators] compliance of teachers. We cannot comment on behalf of independent schools regarding their classroom activity content." 

Elijah Mhlanga, spokesperson for the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, did not have any immediate comment, but might comment later.

The Independent Examinations Board (IEB) said the school is not registered with it, so it cannot comment. 

"Parklands College is not an IEB registered school. I suspect the WCED would be in a position to answer this question," said Anne Oberholzer, the CEO of the IEB.

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