As published in the Weekend Argus September 11, 2010
Written By Lukhanyo Mangona
A simple walk down Khayelitsha streets revealed how South Africa spent three weeks without educating her children. The locked gates and the children loitering unattended in the streets were worrying. Many matrics milled around the gates of schools and in libraries desperate for help from anyone. This clashed with the billboards Government has put up calling on learners to study hard and read their textbooks.
Thandanani Mhlonyane, a dedicated grade 12 learner ,whom I've known since he was in grade 10 confided how much he worried about the strike because he worries about his Physical Science classes. MaDiya, a woman with a child in grade 12, knowing that I work in education, asked me when the teachers' strike would stop. She said that if the strike didn't end, maybe it was time for parents to strike. These are the kind of things we witnessed in working class/rural communities across the country over the past three weeks.
The average pass rate in Khayelistha has been declining – from 76% in 2003 to 50.5% in 2009. Fewer than half (50%) of grade 6 children in African and Coloured areas in this province have an appropriate level of literacy and numeracy. These figures reflect the current crisis in our education system. They mirror the problems experienced in similar communities across the country. These figures also point to the deeper problems in our system such as poor teacher morale, resourcing, teacher training and school governance.
An additional 15 days of no schooling weigh heavily on learners in these communities.Some in the middle and upper classes were understandably horrified by the strike and blamed the strikers. Some volunteered their services in schools. Indeed it is justified to point the finger of blame at strikers when it comes to cases of intimidation that occurred outside schools and libraries. Such hooliganism doesn't only hurt the workers' cause but also drags the teaching profession's name through the mud.
However what critics fail to understand is where primary responsibility lies for the recent strike in our country. The point that needs to be made is that the government has a Constitutional responsibility to ensure that children receive education. We only need to look at the desperate situation of teachers in our country, particularly in communities such as Khayelitsha, to know that the teachers, like the learners, are victims of neglect and inequality.
Too often you hear teacher-bashers going on about how teachers are lazy and incompetent. It is easy to hold this view if you have limited familiarity with the situation of teachers in these communities. Professor Peter Kallaway helps us understand the situation of the teachers when he says: “The teaching profession is in profound crisis because teachers are angry and consider themselves undervalued and underpaid.”
Researchers Shalem and Hoadley have depicted the disparities in teaching. Shalem and Hoadley say of teachers working in working class schools: “These teachers are not aided by the extra-instructional time of the home [that middle-class children receive]. They work in under-resourced physical environments and their access to knowledge resources is not continuous and is often low in quality. They work in schools that have no libraries, media centres or computers….” Class sizes are double, and pay is lower, than in middle-class public schools.
There are three things we urgently need to do to rescue our education from the crisis that Kallaway talks about – decent pay, proper
support and training, and monitoring and accountability.
Teachers need to be paid well to be retained by the profession, and to stay motivated. This ensures that good teachers remain in the classroom rather than leaving for management or moving up the political ladder via the unions. Good pay coupled with good working conditions would attract young people to join the teaching profession whereas currently, learners do not regard teaching as a career of choice.
Also crucial is proper support for teachers. We need to prioritise providing resources such as libraries. Teachers need rigorous training and it is important to ensure that they adopt lifelong learning. Most township teachers call constantly for these things.
Finally, we need to ensure that teachers understand they are accountable to citizens and must deliver learners who are achieving.
A bureaucratised approach to monitoring teachers will only alienate teachers further. Monitoring should come through community pressure on teachers to prioritise their time on teaching. Teachers need to arrive at school on time and teach. Investment in education should prioritise our number one educational resource – teachers. This is what we need to do to secure a brighter future for of our children.