Defying inequality: young people’s struggle for quality education

2014-07-31 11:34

Yesterday, thousands of black school children from the sprawling townships of Gauteng descended on the Johannesburg CBD  in an angry protest to demand better education and ‘tablets’ instead of textbooks. The march is believed to have been illegal and taken place without the consent of the relevant authorities. There is ongoing speculation as to the real reasons for the march as well as the people or groups who organized the march.

There was widespread criticism on social media and mainstream media of the youth in an effort to discredit the real reasons why these young people from several township schools took to the streets in this violent manner. The march is written off as ‘young people demanding tablets instead of textbooks’. While I don’t condone that the march may have been illegal nor the ensuing looting and damage to property, which was criminal and had very little to do with their cause. I do empathize with their larger cause of access to quality education in their lifetime.

South Africa celebrates the youth of 1976 who also marched illegally for the right to quality education and the right to be taught in a language of their choosing. Instead, we vilify the young people from yesterday and forget to address the inequality that beleaguers our society.

In South Africa, race is still a major determinant of class and class is linked to the equality of education one is able to purchase. Black learners are disproportionately disadvantaged both by their race, class and geography of birth. If you are born black, in a poor community, you are most likely to be one of the millions of poor South Africans living in abject poverty. Whereas, a white young South Africa living in a middle to upper class community has significantly higher rates of high school completion and access to higher education which vastly improves their changes in the labour market.

Young black people know that to be economically competitive and to break the cycle of poverty, they need quality education. Quality education goes beyond the pedagogy of the classroom and textbooks. To be truly competitive, you need access to information and technology is a great enabler. Their middle class and often white counter parts have access to quality teaching, additional learning resources, computers in school and at home and the majority are in well off schools; the majority of whom are migrating to tablets and blended learning environments. This places them miles ahead of black learners in township schools that have technology as a subject but learn about it in workbooks instead of practical application on computers and other forms of technology aides that are widespread in well off schools. Unfortunately, education is one of those long term things where return on investment may take 20 to 30 years to yield sufficient results.

So yesterday’s march was partially as a revolt to the inequalities that persist to plague the South African education system. The National Department of Basic Education (DBE) who is the department tasked with provision of education in South Africa, has attempted to provide resources and materials to previously disadvantaged schools, has initiated the distribution of work books, introduction of the Dinaledi Schools in predominately black communities, is fast tracking ICT via the e-Education Strategy as part of the Broadband Policy to launch in 2015. Civil society, business and the  DBE’s efforts are well intended but cannot solely address the vast inequalities entrenched by years of systematic underdevelopment of black communities and schools and the far reaching effects of poverty and deprivation in households and communities. This is a multifaceted problem that requires an egalitarian approach and integrated solutions that include the participation of government, business, civil society and individuals in communities who occupy positions of influence to affect change.

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