Race is an ob­sti­nate vari­able

The ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem needs a revo­lu­tion so that black peo­ple’s aca­demic achieve­ments will im­prove

Mail & Guardian - - Education - Bheki kaMpofu

Be­fore we be­gin to make pre­scrip­tions for South Africa’s fail­ing ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem we need an ac­cu­rate di­ag­no­sis of the gaps in ed­u­ca­tional achieve­ment. One key di­ag­nos­tic ques­tion is to es­tab­lish, from anal­y­sis of meta­data and from the­ory, what the most bind­ing in­flu­ences are for per­cent­age per pop­u­la­tion group of those achiev­ing aca­demic level grade 12 or higher. The ques­tion arises be­cause con­straints bind dif­fer­ently.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers need to take this into ac­count, which of­ten doesn’t hap­pen.

In anal­y­sis of the meta­data on over­all dif­fer­ences in per­cent­ages per pop­u­la­tion group achiev­ing grade 12 or higher at na­tional and pro­vin­cial lev­els, seg­mented by race, gen­der and age, race emerged as the most bind­ing con­straint in our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

The “per­cent­age achiev­ing grade 12 or higher” pat­terns for the prov­inces can be di­vided into three groups.

O The first pat­tern is that in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Gaut­eng, Mpumalanga, Lim­popo, the per­cent­age for whites ex­ceed­ing the per­cent­age for Asians de­creases over time, as does the per­cent­age for coloureds in re­la­tion to blacks.

O For the Western Cape and the North­ern Cape, the per­cent­age for whites ex­ceed­ing the per­cent­age for Asians de­creases over time, but the per­cent­age for blacks in re­la­tion to coloureds in­creases over time.

O In the Free State, the per­cent­age of Asians in re­la­tion to whites is re­versed, and the per­cent­age for coloureds in re­la­tion to blacks de­creases over time.

The re­sults by prov­ince sug­gest that changes in the pat­terns might oc­cur in fu­ture as fol­lows:

The black per­cent­age has ei­ther over­taken the coloured per­cent­age or is clos­ing the per­cent­age gap. These in­clude Western Cape (over­taken), Eastern Cape, Free State, KwaZu­luNatal, Gaut­eng, Mpumalanga, Lim­popo (clos­ing).

Although the white per­cent­age is sub­stan­tially higher than the Asian per­cent­age in all ar­eas ex­cept Free State, the dif­fer­ence is de­creas­ing over time in some the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Gaut­eng, Mpumalanga and Lim­popo. Be­cause these dif­fer­ences vary, the time it takes for the Asian per­cent­age to catch up with the white per­cent­age will also vary.

In KwaZulu-Natal, Gaut­eng, Mpumalanga and Lim­popo, the coloured per­cent­age is sub­stan­tially higher than in the rest of the coun­try. The rea­sons for this are not clear.

Although pat­terns show some im­prove­ment by black peo­ple over time, race con­tin­ues as an ob­sti­nate vari­able with dele­te­ri­ous ef­fects on peo­ple’s achieve­ment lev­els, par­tic­u­larly black peo­ple. In­fer­en­tially, race is the most bind­ing con­straint and should there­fore be tar­geted for what it is and does.

Four ty­polo­gies of race have been iden­ti­fied: de­mo­graphic race, so­cioe­co­nomic and po­lit­i­cal race, ped­a­gogic race and lin­guis­tic race.

De­mo­graphic race is based on an es­sen­tial­ist view fo­cus­ing on phys­i­cal traits ac­cord­ing to which white­ness is re­garded as pure, with lev­els of de­gen­er­a­tion as­cribed to South African black peo­ple and to a lesser ex­tent some mi­nori­ties.

Mun­dane ar­tic­u­la­tion of de­mo­graphic race per se can­not ac­count for vari­ances in aca­demic achieve­ment, nor can bi­ol­ogy ac­count for the gamut of so­cial is­sues his­tor­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with aca­demic progress. In quan­tum physics and cell bi­ol­ogy, we also learn that genes do not con­trol life, and there­fore can­not con­trol so­cial phe­nom­ena or hu­man be­hav­iour such as ed­u­ca­tional out­comes.

The in­scrip­tive and pre­scrip­tive so­cial as­pects of race are the ones that make a huge dif­fer­ence. Thus, de­mo­graphic race can only be­come de­gen­er­ate when it is mis­used and ma­nip­u­lated, as in the racial dis­crim­i­na­tion un­der apartheid and colo­nial­ism, and as in the dele­te­ri­ous legacy ap­par­ent in the aca­demic at­tain­ment lev­els in­di­cated above, where de­mo­graphic race re­mains a salient fac­tor.

So­cioe­co­nomic and po­lit­i­cal race that la­belled white­ness as sa­cred is the po­tent vari­able, en­trenched as white hege­mony and priv­i­lege, that in­flu­ences aca­demic achieve­ment in South Africa through per­sis­tently racist in­equity in dis­tri­bu­tion of re­sources. In this dis­pen­sa­tion, black Africans are ed­u­cated to main­tain the sys­tem as ad­min­is­tra­tors rather than to be skilled and in­no­va­tively en­trepreneurial, thwart­ing full en­try into an em­pow­ered and en­gaged cit­i­zenry.

This di­men­sion of race has been ev­i­dent as a telling vari­able in aca­demic achieve­ment lev­els since 2005, fol­low­ing the re­lease of the first co­hort study and sub­se­quent stud­ies on un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent per­for­mance trends in South Africa. Nu­mer­ous so­cial anom­alies such as in­equal­ity, poverty and un­em­ploy­ment have been iden­ti­fied in the lit­er­a­ture as di­rectly as­so­ci­ated with the aca­demic progress of stu­dents and eman­ci­pa­tion of the dis­en­fran­chised.

The coun­try should be­gin afresh in ad­dress­ing the is­sue of race de­spite some of the mile­stones that have been made through leg­is­la­tion to ad­dress it.

Ped­a­gogic race is based on as­sump­tions that el­e­vate knowl­edge sys­tems cre­ated by a par­tic­u­lar race and im­pose them on other racial groups, cre­at­ing a ped­a­gogy of the priv­i­leged in which that of other races — the ped­a­gogy of the op­pressed — is deemed in­fe­rior. Ped­a­gogic race im­pov­er­ishes pupils when it should em­power them. Its antonym is de­colonised knowl­edge in which “the knowl­edge of ev­ery eth­nos is shared, and where each re­spects the knowl­edge, ex­pe­ri­ences and sys­tems of the oth­ers”. It touches on the real core of teach­ing and learn­ing, the knowl­edge sys­tems, the cur­ricu­lum and its mode of de­liv­ery.

For Brazil­ian ed­u­ca­tor and philoso­pher Paulo Freire, ped­a­gogic race is “an­tidi­a­log­i­cal”, with its main aim be­ing to “sup­press crit­i­cal ap­pre­hen­sion of re­al­ity through crit­i­cal thought and free com­mu­ni­ca­tion”.

A man­i­fes­ta­tion of lin­guis­tic race is a re­mark on lan­guage pol­icy by one black aca­demic at a univer­sity in KwaZulu-Natal, who ar­gued that isi- Zulu had not ac­quired suf­fi­cient lin­guis­tic power to be used a lan­guage of in­struc­tion in higher ed­u­ca­tion. So when and how is it go­ing to ac­quire that lin­guis­tic power if it is not in use in the field? How do you learn in a lan­guage that is for­eign to you as an in­di­gene and ex­pect to be em­pow­ered? How do you learn with­out re­sources that in­clude lan­guage it­self as the em­bod­i­ment of knowl­edge?

Lin­guis­tic race el­e­vates the colo­nial lan­guages and re­fuses to ac­cept poly­glo­tism in teach­ing and learn­ing. Em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence has iden­ti­fied three ways in which lan­guage can af­fect stu­dents (par­tic­u­lar nonEnglish speak­ers) in South Africa:

O Lim­ited ter­mi­nol­ogy or vo­cab­u­lary, where the is­sue of lan­guage is as­so­ci­ated with “nam­ing”.

O Syn­tax, which con­cerns gram­mar in lan­guage.

O Sounds, in re­la­tion to the speed with which a lan­guage is spo­ken or pro­nounced.

Lit­er­a­ture also con­firms that lin­guis­tic race is a bar­rier to in­dige­nous epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ac­cess and epis­temic suc­cess when stu­dents are taught in a for­eign lan­guage.

Over­all, lin­guis­tic race begets lin­gui­cide, de­pri­va­tion of one’s use of one’s own lan­guage in teach­ing and learn­ing, thus deny­ing ac­cess to use­ful knowl­edge and epis­temic suc­cess for black peo­ple.

The net ef­fect of these four types of race in com­bi­na­tion is epis­temi­cide — de­pri­va­tion of both epis­temic suc­cess and epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ac­cess for black peo­ple.

We need a revo­lu­tion of the re­la­tion­ships tar­get­ing race that have been dis­torted by colo­nial­ism and apartheid.

The colo­nial ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem de­barred a mul­ti­tude of voices from en­gage­ment in con­struct­ing our worlds and knowl­edge sys­tems. Prag­matic ad­vance­ment will need to en­cap­su­late both cog­ni­tive and so­cioe­co­nomic di­ver­si­ties. Cog­ni­tive di­ver­sity refers to the ac­cep­tance that we have di­verse views given our back­grounds, in­clud­ing cul­ture, but which should not alien­ate us as we are one — umuntu ngu­muntu nga­bantu (you are who you are be­cause of those who sur­round you). So­cioe­co­nomic di­ver­sity re­lates to the dif­fer­ing so­ci­olo­gies and eco­nom­ics that shape us as in­di­vid­u­als.

For chang­ing the cur­ricu­lum, ped­a­gogic race has been iden­ti­fied as a con­straint in our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in the sense that im­posed and alien knowl­edge sys­tems have de­prived stu­dents of epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ac­cess and epis­temic suc­cess.

Lin­gui­cide has been iden­ti­fied as an un­de­sir­able out­come of lin­guis­tic race: the cur­rent ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem does not ac­cept poly­glo­tism in early learn­ing or in ba­sic and higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions in South Africa. We need to democra­tise the cur­ricu­lum so that it al­lows poly­glo­tism for epis­te­mo­log­i­cal ac­cess.

Above all, epis­temi­cide pro­duced by the com­bined ef­fect of the four types of race re­quires a revo­lu­tion of a whole ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem by a process of de­coloni­sa­tion.

Lin­guis­tic race el­e­vates the colo­nial lan­guages and re­fuses to ac­cept poly­glo­tism in teach­ing and learn­ing

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