Celebrating Mediocrity and the Extinction of Innocence…

I have nostalgic memories of my childhood.  From my pre-school graduation ceremony as I faced my first year of school, to when I sang in front of a rainbow of faces at a hall in Lichtenburg when I was ten years old. I see the face of my father seated among the audience. I remember the lashes our teachers gave when we were out of line and the equal pat on the back when we did well. I remember a friend’s mother who whipped us for going around house to house asking for vetkoek money in her name and the embarrassment I carried home with me. I remember the immense support and mentoring I received from my middle school teachers and their sheer appreciation for excellence.

I remember my childhood; my innocence…and it was wholesome! That was MY childhood. As a mother, I’m faced with the constant worry about the current education climate and whether it will be ideal for my offspring-whether it will ever be ideal for any child. I was moulded and groomed in a public schooling system in a dusty township called Itsoseng, a system that I was (and still am) proud of having gone through.

This is because the dedication of the men and women who taught this woman was second to none. I do wonder, however, whether our future generations will be able to experience innocence in its entirety. There seems to be something sinister at play, a systematic dismantling of the essence of childhood-of the things that define a child. The state, school and society (family) constitute the three most important institutions that are supposed to shape children into individuals who are socially and morally responsible.

Yet it appears, in this era, the child is constantly under threat from all three. When Jacob Zuma began his tenure as president of the country in 2008 many took pride in the fact that though he only had formal schooling up to fifth grade (or Standard three) he climbed his ladder up to the highest position in the land. Without focusing on the obvious role of the ruling party and popular support for him, it was befitting to applaud the man since sans education one would have had to have an extra ounce of resilience, courage, wit and diligence to defeat the odds.

My mother, an endearing educator, has often told of stories of her pupils who aspire to be just like the president. Their humble circumstances make them look to Zuma as a beacon of hope (most are children of miners working in platinum mines) but she often warns that education is key. What will happen if they are not lucky enough to move through the ranks of the ruling party? What will happen if they don’t have meaningful mentors in their lives?

…which way…

It has been extremely disappointing to witness the manner in which education, especially in the public sector, has been reduced to a joke. If anything, we should be weeping for our future generations. According to the 2011/2012 World Competitiveness Report* South Africa ranked at 127th in terms of its quality of primary education, 133rd for the quality of its education system, and 138th for the quality of Maths and Science education. In 2011, Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga and the class of 2010 matriculants celebrated 67.8% national pass rate** after reducing the pass percentage mark significantly. As a consequence we witnessed unusually long queues for admission snaking along corridors and gates of institutions of higher learning two years in a row.

Then there is the deepening crisis in the state of education in the Eastern Cape where the laying off of a crucial workforce of teachers and mud schools are only a tip of the iceberg. Recently the textbook saga in Limpopo took centre stage; interestingly the only individual vindicated of incompetence by the president was the minister of Basic Education. Needless to say, rights group Section 27 discovered that the department was in contravention of a court order as many more children are still without essential textbooks.

***In Northern Cape, a reported forty schools were forced shut by civilians (including parents) demanding service delivery.**** In recent months there have been proposed amendments to the Child Act (no. 38 of 2005) to allow children as young as twelve to have termination of pregnancy and access to contraception without parental consent. The amendments will apparently make provision for sexually abused children and those involved in inter-generational relationships, but nonetheless inclusive of those who aren’t.

To aggravate matters there is a push by child rights organisations and government to have spanking (read: corporal punishment) banned from homes. Campaigners supporting this bid “believe this will have major bearing on the rights of children and how they are raised.”***** Respect for education as a vital tool for the emancipation and empowerment of the majority of our people has completely waned. It has been replaced by concealed dissuasion for excellence as a standard, by denialism and indifference. Which tool can be better than education to a tween involved with a sugar daddy?

Which tool can a parent equip a child with in the face of irresponsible leadership and socio-economic challenges? We are failing our country’s children by denying them quality education in a system that is affordable and accommodating. We are failing our future generations by denying them challenges in life, by making them complacent and lazy thinkers (and by implementing fucked up policy, yes I’m angry!). We are failing children by stripping them of their moral core and innocence. Most importantly, we are failing them by not allowing them to just be… children.


*http://www.stanlib.com/EconomicFocus/Pages/SouthAfricaranked50thinthe20112012WorldCompetitivenessReport.aspx ** http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/2010-matric-pass-rate-678-20110106 *** http://mg.co.za/2012-09-06-section-27-take-angie-to-court-again **** (Govender, S. “New bid to have spanking banned”, 12 Jan 2012. Times Live) ***** (Dlodlo, C. “Parents refuse to end protests”, 09 Sept 2012, City Press)