We need quality education for all

2015-11-04 20:13

Generally learners as a whole lack the quality of empathy when presented with situations related to the disadvantaged and rural communities albeit some of them are from disadvantaged backgrounds themselves. Social issues like poverty, unemployment, and apartheid era challenges are very limited and they cannot relate to the repressive years of the former Nationalist Party.

Affluent learners, attending well-resourced or fortified schools, by and large come from communities lacking in any evidence of apartheid’s atrocious past.

To address these issues, I used a very novel approach for increasing learner interface, awareness and increasing student opportunities for real interaction. I took some of my grade 8 learners on a field base trip to Carisbrooke Primary School, outside Ixopo.  “Carisbrooke” made famous by the well-known author, Alan Paton, in his book “Cry the Beloved Country”.

The short drive off the main road to Carisbrooke Primary School on the gravel road is amazingly incredible due to the greenery, hillsides and rural setting. It’s a wonderful and a very peaceful place to visit, learn and teach. The learners have written some very appealing messages like; “A Reading Nation is a Winning Nation”; on the water tanks and on the mud walls of the school.

My learners were awed by the simplicity of Schooling in a deep rural area. The lack of even basics astounded them - paucity of furniture, ill equipped classrooms, very basic seating arrangements, chickens and goats running around, no tiles on the floor, the writing on the school walls, and the informal and approachable style of the principal, Dan Shoba. Shoba, is affectionately known by the Carisbrooke community as teacher “UMKHULU”.

My learners were also shocked to learn from the principal that learners at the rural School walk great distances to school, have to make do with little food doled out in the smallest of portions by the cook and some even attend School bare foot.

This educational trip had a huge motivational effect on the learners. It increased their knowledge, they could visualise and humanise social issues affecting the disadvantaged learners. Through this intervention hopefully my learners will have a better understanding of social issues and its impact on their peers or fellow learners. My School learners expressed the desire to pay another visit to the School. According to them only after the visit did they understand what true poverty and life in the rural area is all about.

Personally, this field base educational and outreach trip, was also a learning experience for me as it reinforced in me Maslow’s model – “Hierarchy of needs”. I wondered how can these learners learn when their basic needs such as food, water and clothing is not sufficiently met?

Children that are not fed are likely to have difficulty concentrating and performing complex tasks. Teachers’ testimony from this rural school provides powerful evidences that links poverty to under-achievement.

Although the historical laws enforcing the racial divide between the different race groups were abolished and public spending was targeted towards underprivileged schools, the end of apartheid did not really address the quality of education, especially for deep rural schools.

This is mainly due to decades of apartheid and the gross inequalities and imbalances in our country. The effects of apartheid continues to affect South Africa’s education system at every level.

According to many researchers and educationist because of the lingering effect of racial segregation, schools which historically served the white minority and accordingly received a much higher endowment of inputs are still out-performing schools which historically served the black population, 20 years after the end of apartheid.

Taking the clear link between educational achievement and economic disadvantage into account, one might expect education policies to focus on ways to overcome the effects of poverty on children and to improve under resourced schools. Yet most of today’s education policies have other focal areas.

Although, the government does address poverty through a variety of programs and services like school feeding schemes, more needs to be done to upgrade and improve schools deep in the rural areas.

The culture of poverty traps poor communities and less privileged students into cycles of low achievement and this cycle passes on from generation to generation. Because of poverty the vast majority of children are excluded from their right to quality education. Poverty is also regarded as one of the most persistent of all exclusionary factors affecting underprivileged students.

Equal and quality education needs to be accessible to all who live in South Africa, or else we will not achieve a sustainable progression in South Africa’s schooling.

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