If there is a will, there is a way

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

It seems I might not have been so fool­hardy af­ter all when I fore­cast last week that, de­spite all the op­po­si­tional sound and fury, Pres­i­dent Jacob Zuma would re­main in power. Also, that the chaos would con­tinue along with lob­by­ing and var­i­ous ef­forts at ma­nip­u­la­tion.

Prime vic­tims in all of this will be co­her­ent and com­pre­hen­sive poli­cies and prac­tice. And cru­cial here will be ed­u­ca­tion and the de­mand — be­yond the #FeesMustFall ter­tiary level — for free ed­u­ca­tion across the board.

How­ever, just be­ing free is not enough. Qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion of an equal stan­dard – from preschool through to adult learn­ing and uni­ver­sity – has to be the de­mand.

How­ever, the fo­cus at the mo­ment re­mains on fi­nance, on fee-free ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially at ter­tiary level. In line with this, Cosatu, sup­ported by stu­dent groups and oth­ers, has given no­tice that a na­tional strike will be or­gan­ised to sup­port this call.

A na­tional work stop­page may fo­cus the at­ten­tion of leg­is­la­tors on ed­u­ca­tion and even on the de­mand for a wealth tax to fi­nance a fee-free era in for­mal learn­ing. But what sort of ed­u­ca­tion is wanted — and needed?

Apart from gen­er­ally vague calls for more tech­ni­cal pro­grammes and an on­go­ing se­ries of rows about a lan­guage pol­icy, there is lit­tle new on of­fer. At the same time, there is con­sid­er­able dis­gruntle­ment among teach­ers and their unions about the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

How­ever, there are in­de­pen­dent ini­tia­tives that have proven them­selves and seem to point to the way for­ward. An in­cred­i­ble story, Trust and Hope – now pub­lished, about a com­mu­nity-driven ed­u­ca­tional project that has trans­formed many lives in the heart of the Ka­roo – is a clas­sic ex­am­ple.

The Han­tam Com­mu­nity Ed­u­ca­tion Trust was started in 1989 as a preschool project for the chil­dren of farm work­ers and has grown into a mul­ti­fac­eted com­mu­nity project. The school caters for Grade 1 to Grade 9, and the trust pro­vides bur­saries for fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion and vo­ca­tional train­ing, as well as op­er­at­ing an ac­cred­ited hos­pi­tal­ity train­ing cen­tre.

Cen­tred on the school there is a clinic, a phar­macy and a range of out­reach projects such as an “ef­fec­tive par­ent­ing project”. This project, op­er­ated by grad­u­ates from the school, is cred­ited with the gen­eral im­prove­ment in com­mu­nity health and the de­cline in cases of foetal al­co­hol syn­drome in the dis­trict.

More re­cent in­de­pen­dent ven­tures that have proved a suc­cess in­clude the mul­ti­lin­gual Pro­fes­sional Ed­u­ca­tor Train­ing in Schools (Pets), a scheme for up­grad­ing teacher skills. Pi­loted in Bar­ry­dale in the Western Cape, it was started by for­mer ed­u­ca­tion min­istry ad­viser, Michael Rice, and is the first on­line course in South Africa to im­prove teach­ers’ sub­ject knowl­edge of frac­tions, dec­i­mals and per­cent­ages.

The Pets pro­gramme has now linked up with e-Class­room, de­vised by for­mer ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive Natalie Wood. By means of cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship, e-Class­room pro­vides free work­sheets and sub­ject guid­ance for stu­dents — along with help for teach­ers and par­ents — from re­cep­tion level to Grade 12.

To be ef­fec­tive, fee-free strik­ers and their sup­port­ers should pro­vide clear al­ter­na­tive op­tions to the cur­rent shambles in ed­u­ca­tion. Con­sult­ing the ex­am­ples men­tioned would be a good start.

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