The interviewee, a black male who wishes to remain anonymous, was born and bred in one of the rural areas of Limpopo, Ga-Mphahlele. He attended a public school and university, and shares his insights on the South African education system and how we can have a sustainable education sector going forward.
Why do you think that education is important?
Education provides access. You can see how private school kids are always a step ahead with their education? This access is highly dependent on the type of education we receive. Education is important because it provides us with new perspectives, connects us with new people and opens up new horizons. Education helps us dream beyond our inabilities, beyond our inadequacies.
What do you think is the role of education is in society?
Education prepares and qualifies people to work in the economy. It integrates people into society and teaches them values and morals. In a country with a high unemployment rate and high levels of inequality, South African youth find themselves at the margins – especially painful in a democracy that echoed inclusion. We need to find ways in which education is sustainable as well as Africanised.
Access to education is a basic human right and we have seen movements from #FeesMustFall reiterating what is embedded in the Charter, however South Africans, many who are poor, still find themselves bearing the brunt of leaders who are dissonant with their daily lived experiences and constantly speaking and thinking from a point of privilege. Do you think what is embedded in the Freedom Charter is still achievable or should we forget about the entire concept of democracy when looking at our education system?
Access to quality education is embedded in the freedom charter and constitution but yet we continue to see the violation of this right, 28 years into democracy. But democracy has not failed us – rather the implementers of the democracy have failed us. We talk about how young people are the future of the country and yet they still bare the brunt of these failures; we talk about how they need to be as liberal as the youth of 1976 to fight for what is theirs. Truthfully speaking, this democracy is not theirs; instead they have reimagined a democracy for them, and they need a space and environment to implement that democracy. I believe our youth can and will be able to elaborate on this democracy and what it needs to look like, to reimagine a constitution so well rounded and upheld that every member of society honours the constitution. #FeesMustFall was an indication that the youth know what they want, and it is not what is happening now; young children in schools know what they want, and it is not having no access to water or having to use pit latrines.
In what ways do institutional cultures vs government systems negate the role of education in society?
Education is there to shape and mould our values and morals but most importantly education gives us access to knowledge to be able to better the conditions of a society to ensure that we thrive. In a society as complex as South Africa, education plays the role of cultivating citizens able to come up with solutions to address the issues it faces. In the South African economy, education and the economic sector seem to be disconnected and that is why we see so many of students unemployed or not skilled enough for the type of work they look for. However, we also need to applaud the successes; many of us have come out as engineers, doctors, academics, etc. Although there were persistent challenges in achieving these milestones, dreams came true. But the issue here is do we still want the future generation to suffer the challenges we faced before? Do we still want them to fight for everything like we did? Imagine if pit latrines were removed years ago, we would not have incidents such as the late Michael Komape (5) who drowned in a pit toilet. We would not have incidents where white children see it befitting to urinate on a black student’s laptop in his room and them throw tantrums without seeing the dehumanization impact of his racist act. We have students who commit suicide and as a society we tend to not want to know why. Nelson Mandela said: “Without education, your children can never really meet the challenges they face. So, it is vital to educate children and explain that they should play a role in their country.”
What do you find problematic about the South African education system?
Teaching methodologies need to be changed because we cannot complain about children not learning but the manner in which we teach does not change. We need to find ways in which we accommodate everyone, especially being aware of the complex issues we face. We complain of children’s learning deficits, but the very people teaching them also needs to be problematised. I say this because of the work ethic that changes when one works in a public service institution or government institution as opposed to the private institution. Institutions serving the public should function better than those serving the minority, however that is largely untrue in South Africa. Everything better and well-functioning is from the private sector but what is the point of serving the public when doing the bare minimum is difficult. This culture needs to be changed, we need to recentre the public service and humanise it.
In what ways do you think education can be Africanised and decolonised, and yet be sustainable?
The reimagination of our democracy and constitution is a step in the right direction in ensuring we are Africanising things. We need to come to a point where we change the narrative about Africa – where Africa is superior as opposed to inferior, where we learn about our history in its entirety. How do we then make education sustainable and Africanized? Sustainability means focussing on indigenous knowledge systems, which is a good way for Africans to go back to their roots and wiped-out history, and learning from African scholars and African perspectives – not to wipe out the perspectives of the global west – but to ensure that the African lens is superior. In our households we must tell the stories of how we lived, with older generations passing on their knowledge.
What role does society play in ensuring that education is accessible, sustainable and successful?
Besides the passing down of indigenous knowledge systems, we also have the responsibility to ensure that we are proactive and not reactive in our responses. For example the burning of schools or looting of school infrastructure is reactive. We need to think about the consequences of our decisions and reactions, and whether they will be beneficial or not.
What are your perceptions of collaborative work within the education sector or even the South African landscape as a whole?
Civil organisation have always picked up the slack of government, which is not fair because civil organisations are doing the work that should and must be done by government. Collaborative work is important because we then have an offering of various perspectives to the complex issues we face, and solutions provided. One other important aspect is that civil organisations have this work model that revolves around the very members of society whose problems they want to find solutions for. This means that they are not far from the daily lived experiences and not disillusioned by what is happening on the ground. If government is open and acknowledges the fact that they are struggling to even do the bare minimum they should enlist the assistance of civil organisations. Sustainable education is possible and should be a goal that we all strive for to ensure that future generations are taken care of.