Education, Race and Discipline in South African schools.

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By Isaac Mupwanyiwa:

‘Knowledge comes but wisdom lingers!’ Knowledge is acquired through intensive or extensive learning either formally or informally, but wisdom is an inborn trait endowed by the Almighty. Wisdom can be hereditary and be passed from parent to child, on the other hand knowledge can be acquired and be proven by grades on certificates, but the presence of wisdom is shown by actions. Whilst the combination of the two traits enhances one’s appeal socially, economically, technologically and politically, it is wisdom that seasons everything!

Despite the exponential rise in numbers of educated Africans across the continent poverty is rapidly increasing and infrastructure is getting dilapidated at an alarming rate! Health systems, road networks and education systems are deteriorating.

With South Africa offering free education in public schools, most citizens are able to get an education and at least be literate. Even asylum seekers are accepted in public schools and they enjoy the privileges of the local nationals.

But just like all free things it cost a lot, socially; some local South Africans are not fully appreciative of their right to an education at no cost or very cheap at basic education levels.

There are high chances of landing a bursary when one passes Grade 12 (Matric). Whilst South African university fees are very expensive compared to others in the region, there is great support from the government and corporate world to help smart students achieve their dreams.

June 16, is Youth Day and in South Africa it is a national holiday to commemorate the 1976 Soweto uprisings when the youth rose against the apartheid government resisting to be taught mainly in Afrikaans! Ironically they wanted to be taught in English which is still a colonial language! The police shot at and killed unarmed and harmless school children fighting for their rights. The uprisings inspired a generation to continue fighting and end the repressive political system which unequally treated blacks.

With the release of Nelson Mandela from his 27 year incarceration in 1990 and 4 years later for him to become the first democratically elected president of the Republic of South Africa. A wave of change swept across South Africa among the races, Africans,(majority), Indians, Coloureds and Whites started to enjoy a less tense relationship.

Despite the reconciliation spearheaded by Nelson Mandela the imbalances on the economic and social front could not be significantly corrected. The imbalances are still alive up to this minute!

Fast forward, four decades on the very same youths that demonstrated against learning in Afrikaans are queing at Afrikaans taught private and public schools to have their children admitted!. They are crying discrimination against black learners at these schools. ” When I moved to this town I brought my daughters to learn at this local white dominated school but I was told that she didn’t do well during the interview so she had to go down to grade3 from 4!, cried Thabo Mtsweni.

Thabo Mtsweni is a middle class African business man who have managed to move from the townships to the surbubs. He is an epitome of success in the townships. When asked why he wasn’t sending his children to the township schools? He burst out laughing, ” that’s impossible there is no order and no discipline, education is dying there!”
Despite the independence and African dominated government little has been done to alleviate the cultural anomally that disenfranchised Africans. The very systems that were under use during apartheid are still in place, the slight changes made are not beneficial or progressive to an education that is empowering! The relaxation of rules governing school conduct has left teachers at the mercy of unruly school children.

There is now a sharp contrast in the quality of learning environment. The private white dominated schools have strict rules which learners must abide to and failure results in expulsion. The rules are spelt loud and clear before admittance and compliance forms are signed. High levels of discipline are maintained and teachers are safe from delinquent students and in cases of teacher-pupil misunderstanding the issue is solved amicably and fairly.
Cases of students fighting teachers are very rare and teachers also knows their boundaries in associating with students.

In the African dominated townships, the law that ‘everyone has a right to any education’ applies and has been relatively misunderstood. In fact it has regressive effects towards the township children because the quality of education is deteriorating. Schools are vandalised and teachers have little to say or do, for they fear the wrath of the community members and the very same school children. Violence erupts at schools and to some extend some pupils get killed. Some are stabbed and sustain serious injuries! Class administration is a mammoth task. Even in some cases, teachers are stabbed by pupils!. With South Africa reeling from the rise of teenage pregnancies, pregnant pupils are allowed to attend classes and the teachers have to be patient and take special care of them. Whether this affects the other learners or not, it’s a contested issue!. Maybe, it’s only that no-one must be discriminated in a democratic society. In the white dominated schools, they don’t allow that!
Cases of learners caught in sexually compromising positions are rampant and they face a suspension, to come back as heroes later and badly influence others.

One female teacher interviewed on condition of anonymity, says ” we will be worse off than the apartheid times for there is too much freedom and personally I play it safe”. ” How can you teach someone who came to school with bhabhalazi (hangover), from the tavern to the class?! she chuckled. “Some of the female learners are staying with their boyfriends and they have marital issues to deal with and this makes our job difficult and we are short-changing the responsible learners.” she added. ” Parents have failed to control and instill discipline at home and now they are throwing the burden at us and expect us to manage”, she complained.

Kenny Mabaso, a parent had a different view, ” teachers are trained and must be able to teach our children, we must give our children a second chance after falling pregnant or doing crime”. Asked whether there was similarities in quality between the white dominated and township education?. He blamed the apartheid system even though, it’s now 26 years since democratic rule.

Hlobosile, a learner in grade 11 had this to share, ” the rules are too relaxed and teachers are having a torrid time in classes but they can’t help it for the law forbids corporal punishment and expulsion”. “Some students take drugs and beer during the school hours and they cause havoc and distract us from proper learning.”she mourned.

The BIGGEST QUESTION is when will the African society as a whole build it’s own Social, Economic, Technological and Political systems which are progressive? Isn’t blaming colonialism now a past scapegoat? Instead of getting better it’s getting worse by each passing second!!!!.

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