In my humble opinion the issues on the table are too narrow and this campaign should’ve been used to address broader issues. Allow me to elaborate.

It was only recently that the government started to talk about the importance of early childhood development. And if you take the time to read up on the importance that this has on a child’s education, you will quickly realise that a significant number of our kids are already on the back foot and will most probably be forced to compensate for the disadvantages in other ways.

Then there’s the debate about mother-tongue instruction which is gaining traction. There is a growing number of people who are advocating for children to be taught in their home languages instead of being taught in a foreign language.

It has been proven that children who are taught mathematics, for example, in their mother tongue are far more likely to grasp the mathematical concepts than when they are taught in a language that is not familiar to them. You only have to listen to utterances made by Professor Phakeng to be convinced that this is the way to go. This would, of course, require a mind shift on our part, without being divisive, backed by political will.

One of my personal gripes – God willing someday I’ll be in a position to do something about it – is the way children in rural areas and our townships are disadvantaged. If you don’t believe me simply go and look at how many extra murals are offered at a nursery school or primary school, for that matter, in the ‘burbs versus Dlamini or Katlehong.

If we raise the argument that our parents living in the townships or squatter camps cannot afford to pay for such extra murals then why isn’t the private sector and government coming to the party with funding, equipment or resources?

Last time I checked we were being told that the first year dropout rate at university is extremely high and students are simply not well equipped for varsity. If that is the case, why aren’t we promoting other avenues to matriculants and their parents?

Why is university positioned as the answer to poverty and unemployment? What is wrong at primary and secondary level that is failing our students at tertiary level? Is the system designed to support and encourage young learners or are we setting them up to fail? Where is the integrated plan between pre-primary, primary, high school and tertiary level?

Then there are the unions. Are they for quality education or not? If they are, what actions have they taken to back this up? If we agree that the level of abuse in our schools and poor conduct by some of our teachers is rife, then why can’t we re-introduce school inspectors with a clear mandate and implementable sanctions?

I could go on and on, but suffice to say we need to open up this conversation and put an end to the cheap rhetoric that claims to prioritize education in our country. Get a group of experienced and respected mediators and negotiators, with an impartial ear, to meet with all the necessary stakeholders: students, university management, law enforcement, civil society, the private sector, government, etc, etc. Hammer out an agreement with strict terms and conditions, measurable objectives and reasonable timelines.

Make sure that discussions are done in public using radio, the SABC and social media platforms in order to bring to an end the shifting of goalposts and high handed approach of university management and security personnel, and once consensus has been reached, sign on the dotted line and deliver. Accountability. Transparency. Delivery. Effective and creative leadership. No, I don’t have all the answers but we cannot continue with this cat and mouse game that threatens an entire generation of learners and has an increasing number of casualties. Something has got to give!


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