If there is a will, there is a way
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.