Public schools must be improved if the disadvantaged are to have a future

Public schools must be improved if the disadvantaged are to have a future
Sexuality education is lacking in South African schools. (Photo: ER Lombard / Gallo Images via Getty Images)

The disparate approaches to learning and teaching for public and private schools has again laid bare persistent inequalities in the education system.

Dear Editor

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s update to the nation on 23 July 2020 centred on two issues: how the government plans to tackle corruption involving funding intended for the country’s Covid-19 intervention, and the country’s approach to teaching and learning in the midst of the pandemic.

The government and unions in the education sector have been grappling with how to manage education since the beginning of attempts to restart schooling activities.

With the country now expected to experience the peak of Covid-19 infections within weeks, and presently ranked fifth among all countries in terms of infections, there has been intensified lobbying for the government to consider suspending schooling until the coronavirus peak has passed.

Accordingly, the president stated in his address that “there can be no schooling in the presence of community transmissions”.

Ordinarily, one would’ve expected a uniform suspension of all schooling activities. However, the president’s announcement revealed that he is oblivious to the privilege of the capitalist class (predominantly white and wealthy) and the disadvantage of the working class (predominantly black and poor) in our society.

Although this has been a protracted reality in the country, the varying approaches to learning and teaching for public and private schools has again laid bare the country’s persistent inequalities which are set to be with us for generations to come.

It is true that private schools have fewer learners in each class, and have access to adequate infrastructural resources to comfortably minimise the spread of the virus.

It is equally true that public schools are overcrowded, under-resourced and lack the basic necessities to avoid being hubs of infection. Therefore, teaching and learning are impossible in public schools without risking the lives of both children and teachers.

The inevitable consequence of this reality is that learners from public schools will not be as prepared for post-school education as their peers from private schools – a situation that is not of their own choosing.

Covid-19 has exposed that limitations still exist to the emancipation of previously disadvantaged communities, and that these striking inequalities continue, even in a democratic South Africa, without intervention from the government.

These inequalities are the direct consequence of the deliberate systematic oppression of one race by another.

The debate on the differences of approach to private and public schools should not be about whether or not the government should have jurisdiction over matters affecting private schools, nor should it be about the amalgamation of the two schooling systems

Instead, it should be about improving public schools to become conducive environments of teaching and learning, now as much as after the pandemic. The Minister of Basic Education needs to roll out a strategy to avoid Covid-19 infections, while improving conditions for learning and teaching in public schools.

The department must announce immediate plans for infrastructure development to address overcrowding so that classes can resume with a lower risk of infection, and, most critically, enhance the quality of education in public schools. DM

Zuko Mndayi is Western Cape provincial secretary of the South African Youth Council. He writes in his personal capacity.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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