Feed, clothe, transport and educate

9th March, 2011

The news today led with a story about how the hopeless Eastern Cape Provincial Government has remained unable to deliver R54-million in nutrition and transport to scholars in that province. There is no surprise in the Eastern cape government’s inability to do anything right – it is the worst run province in South Africa (even national government, admitting as much, have placed the provincial education department under administration) So what’s surprising about all of this?

I’ll tell you what is – the fact that the education department are now also responsible for feeding               and          transporting people. One wonders if the ever-larger education budget is just becoming too much for the government to manage to spend…

My gripe is not that poor starving children are being fed, or that they need a lift to school – all of that is neccessary to facilitate basic education – but where are the parents? Suddenly the children are more the responsibility of the state than that of their own adult parents. Even in miserable child-headed households there seems to be no ability, or plan to provide anything for the family without Big Brother handing out a stipend or slave-wage (usually a paltry reward for placing your cross in the right place on the ballot-paper anyway).Is this the point to which freedom and democracy has brought poor people in the Eastern Cape?

More maddening than patronising alms being handed out, teachers are increasingly expected to be surrogates for parents in any number of new ways. The watered-down and politically posioned syllabus, downgrading of literacy and numeracy-standards, opposition to excellence over averages and outcomes-based system have rendered even the basic job-description of teachers a farce. The national education system churns out thousands of inadequate learners every year. The great scar on their face is the superior performance of private schools, despite them having to rely on their own funding. The monstrous education system is a great teetering shame which in too many old Bantu-education schools perpetuates the revolting mistakes of their oppresive predecessors.

Our biggest problem is that we expect too much from state schools:  We want schools to teach self-discipline, but tie the hands of authority up. We want them to teach children how to speak but find ourselves unable to decide what to do about the awkward 11 official languages and this impractical mother-tongue nonsense.  We must feed, clothe and transport these children because their parents cannot. We expect schools to make our children employable or to prepare them for higher education but our ministers find their political ambitions to be higher priorities and seldom have any experience in education themselves. They want presentable statistics that make them look good, rather than actual results and a workforce free from ignorance and inability.

The fish rots from the head, and I’m afraid it has already reached the first few vertebrae. I hope it is not too late to save education in South Africa.

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