South Africa


‘There is no political will’ to rid South African education of inequality

‘There is no political will’ to rid South African education of inequality
For school children in low-income households, moving to e-learning has meant navigating new technology and high data costs. (Photo: Unsplash / Papaioannou Kostas)

Jacana Media hosted a Youth Day dialogue on education, online learning and the importance of decolonisation.

To mark Youth Day, youth development practitioner Pearl Pillay, and a researcher at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (Mistra), Wandile Ngcaweni, spoke about the changing landscape of the education sector during Covid-19.

“The problem we’ve had in education is that the people at the helm [of education departments] are wholly inadequate,” said Pillay at Jacana Media’s inaugural Don’t Shut Up Conversations.

A few years ago, Pillay told Ngcaweni, when Equal Education asked Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga how many schools did not have toilets, she couldn’t answer. 

“That is so indicative of how out of touch they are with the realities of students,” said Pillay

While Grade 7 and Grade 12 pupils resumed contact learning on Monday 8 June, provincial education departments were rushing to ensure that schools had adequate protective personal gear (PPE) and access to water so pupils and staff members can regularly wash their hands. 

Under Level 3, 33% of students have returned to campus at higher education institutions.

But Ngcaweni thinks “forcing children back to schools is putting their lives in danger”. Instead of rushing to have children back in school, this would have been a good time to rethink and restructure the education budget, said Ngcaweni.

Amid lockdown, schools and higher education institutions resorted to online teaching and learning. According to Ngcaweni, digitising education and ensuring that all students can access electronic devices is an essential step in “expanding and democratising education”.

Ngcaweni said by “digitising education there are many opportunities” which can help students from poor backgrounds get quality education from the best teachers.

Higher education institutions have already started loaning laptops to students who can’t afford them and delivering learning materials to students in rural areas.

However, for school children in low-income households, moving to e-learning has meant navigating new technology and high data costs.

“But in all the fancy stuff we tend to forget that at the heart of education is the teacher. Even when there are calls to moving to digital platforms, teachers need to be retrained,” said Pillay.

While “technology can enhance and enrich pedagogy,” wrote Sara Black, an education researcher, the problem with thinking that online learning can replace contact learning, particularly for children, is that there are losses of the many “critical acts and responses of the teacher as mediator of knowledge and understanding: it throttles pedagogical practice”.

Added to the conversation of education is the ongoing conversation to decolonise curriculums, not just at higher education institutions but at basic education level as well.

“These conversations on decolonisation, they have been happening for a long time. When you go to an institution of learning in South Africa, it must look and feel like a South African institution of learning. The fact that you’re more likely to learn about Jan van Riebeeck than Winnie Mandela is ridiculous” said Pillay.

The call to decolonise schools has been hot on the agenda at many schools across the country.

At Bishops Diocesan College, the matriculants sent a list of 20 demands to the school’s executive, including that the syllabus is decolonised. 

“Historical events such as colonialism and apartheid can no longer be taught as historically neutral, but must be recognised as what they were: the invasion and terrorisation of native African and non-white people,” wrote the Bishops’ matrics.

Despite there being calls for decolonisation and better access to electronic devices for students, Pillay doesn’t believe that inequality in education will change, “because there simply is no political will. When you’ve got a government that operates on shock, it’s unsurprising that there is no political will.” DM


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