My 16 years in the SA Education System.

2013-09-17 10:00

As a final year student of Public Policy, International Relations and Media who has a secrete desire to be a teacher I felt it’s important  to share my education experience since pre-school. It’s not a funny or lovely one, but it’s one I wish children born today will never experience and write blogs about later in life.

As a poor child growing in a black rural area of Eastern Cape my education experience is not like any other. As a look back now, I realize of how many things we were denied of in our small little village of Ngqeleni in Umthatha.

Of course, my first year in the education system started in pre-school. I remember my first day because my mom practically dragged me there like a log. In a mud class room, over 60 rural children would get together. For two years, I was stuck there; later exiting only knowing how to write my name and surname.

Graduating to school was one of my greatest memories I will always treasure simply because what was coming was nothing to treasure. I was to be dumped into deep troubled school system; hopeless and with no future.

I remember when I started Grade 1. I and my peers were so happy because we had graduated from pre-school and now we were at “Esikolweni Esikhulu” (Primary School).

I woke up early every day and walked miles to school on an empty stomach and this became a ritual for my 9 years of primary school.

By Grade 4 most of us in class still could not read or write or count for that matter. In a class work that told is “fill in the missing words” the same phrase would be filled on those blank spaces the teacher made for us.

Mrs Vinidwa would use her still she called “isigqigqi” to beat the hell out of us. “Beginning –End” “Day- Night” “sweet-sour” “old-new”  this was our song, we said the words and did not know what they meant.  We became like old records, recording and memorizing words that held no meaning to us.

End of the year, my mom came back home with a report “I failed”. My Teacher gave her options, “do you want us to pass or fail your child”. Mother chose fail, oh well, I hated her for that.

I remember not being able to concentrate in class because the only thing I could think of was food. I did not eat most of the mornings because there was not food at home.

I also remember being named and shamed by the teacher who asked all those who had not paid fees to stand on their feet. A third of the class would stand up, get beaten and sent home to fetch their parents to come explain why their fees were unpaid.

Of course our fees were unpaid; most of our parents were and still are unemployed. They had no way of paying for us. LOL, my grandmother would pay my fees with chickens sometimes. Clever Woman!!, give that woman a Bells, oh wait, give her a cup of Five Roses tea.

In 2007 public schools in my region were declared “no fee schools”. Now we had one thing to worry about.

I continued with my studies but most of my classmates were forced to drop out. Some had to drop out simply because the system had failed them. Some had to go find jobs or get married to support their families.

Our mud classrooms were overcrowded; a single teacher would teach a class with 63 learners; this happened from grade 1 to grade 11.

In our neighbouring schools had their classes under trees; there was no building or infrastructure for them. None of our schools had libraries or computerLabs.

When I was in grade 6 my English teacher introduced me to a programme ran by an NGO “READ”. READ’S motto was “A NATION THAT READS IS A NATION THAT WINS”.

The programme helped me a lot but could not be offered to all learners. Out of 63 students, the 6 that were picked by the NGO are now in varsity.

In grade 10 I did not have a Math, Accounting and Business Studies teacher for a year. And this happened in a School that had 6 classes of Grade 10s. Three of the commercial classes did not have those teachers and all six had no maths teacher.

The following year I had to move to Western Cape to find “refuge” in Cape Town. I became an "education refugee" in the beautiful "Republic of Western Cape” but readers must NB, the province was still under the ANC then. I don’t want to make DA supporters excited.

Not a lot changed but at least I had all teachers for all seven subjects although I doubt my maths teacher would pass the tests he set for us. My accounting teacher taught us with a memorandum, Jesus!!.

For 12 years of my schooling life in EC and WC I was taught English in Xhosa. Again, this is the case for all South African students who go to Public Schools.

By some luck, I made it to matric, passed and got accepted to the University of Cape Town. Well, the storm was not over.

Adjusting to UCT became a huge problem; I was taught English in Xhosa for over 13 years. Now I was in thrown in this deep environment dominated with diverse people who conversed in English. I had to adjust, and I did.

The fortunate ones enter university and they end up failing and getting excluded because they were not prepared. In all universities in South Africa many student drop outs happen in first years.

The department of education with its ministers and MECs around the country even in Western Cape only realise that they have learners to look after when they are in Grade 12 (matric). No wonder there are so many drop outs in first year.

All provinces go into a fierce competition to get the highest passing rate. The competition is not at all bad, but it only proves to be disastrous

Few learners pass matric and qualify for university (below 30% ). Others passed badly, and end up at home doing nothing and without jobs.

I am left with only two months until Graduation at UCT, I don’t know how I managed to get this far but I am grateful to everyone who has played a role in my education life.

I thank my mother who chose a FAIL over a pass for me in Grade 4. For the NGO that believed in us and knew we could READ and make South Africa a Winning Nation.

I am thankful to the South African government for declaring my school a “No Fee” one. I am thankful again to the government for giving me a loan and a bursary to study in University

I am grateful to my United Kingdom sponsor who has assisted me financially since first year. Her support and words of encouragement have pushed me this far

If it was not for all these people I would not be on the list of potential graduates in December but on a list of who will open the next Taxi door at a Taxi rank of Umthatha.

It warms my heart to go back to my community and see change. The clinic my grandmother always wanted is available. My mud pre-school and school is now a concrete jungle, including my neighbouring school that used trees as classrooms.

We still don’t have enough resources though, but judging from my brother’s knowledge and what is in his books a lot has changed. He has more chances of getting to university than I did.

The old teachers at school got demoted into lower grades; the new younger one took the critical subjects and taught in grade 4 upwards.

A lot has improved, but more needs to be done to ensure that leaners become students in Universities such as UCT like me. More needs to be done to ensure that when they get to varsity they don’t come to collect NFSAS loans and leave without degrees because the government prepared them in Grade 12 for Varsity.

Unemployment and poverty is a reality where I came from. There were times I wanted to drop out of school to support my family but I knew the only way I could was by getting quality education.

Mandela once said, it takes a generation to be great. We are that great generation that can use education to end poverty and unemployment.

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