Dy­ing teach­ers, dy­ing ed­u­ca­tion

Post - - COMMENT - VIMOLAN MUDALY AND RONICKA MUDALY ●

SEV­ERAL peo­ple have been pre­dict­ing the death of higher ed­u­ca­tion as we know it. Right­fully so, too. With the high cost of pre­serv­ing the in­sti­tu­tions, face-to-face in­struc­tion is be­com­ing more un­likely for the fu­ture.

Other fac­tors col­lude in the suf­fo­ca­tion of higher ed­u­ca­tion. Stu­dent un­rest, the ex­or­bi­tant cost of higher ed­u­ca­tion for the con­sumer, the need to de­crease stan­dards (stu­dents walk­ing out of test venues be­cause tests are too “dif­fi­cult”), and other rea­sons.

We were al­ways aware that higher ed­u­ca­tion in its cur­rent form was a priv­i­lege and not a right. Nev­er­the­less, higher ed­u­ca­tion will en­dure. We need to train peo­ple for ca­reers that don’t ex­ist cur­rently. Re­search will con­tinue to pro­duce new knowl­edge.

Deep philo­soph­i­cal in­ter­ro­ga­tion of cur­rent and fu­ture prac­tices must oc­cur, other­wise evo­lu­tion will slow down and we will de­volve into the zom­bies, as pre­dicted by some be­liev­ers.

The point is that we will find new and creative ways of con­tin­u­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion. We are re­source­ful and our en­trepreneurial skills will di­rect us to a sys­tem that will work.

We have a dif­fer­ent con­cern, which is the demise of the pub­lic school­ing sys­tem.

Will we ever be able to ed­u­cate our chil­dren at func­tional schools, where qual­i­fied, ac­count­able teach­ers teach, learn­ing takes place, and the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion moves out of a space char­ac­terised by vac­u­ous lead­er­ship and en­gages in qual­ity ap­praisal with­out fear?

Is the cur­rent sys­tem the best sys­tem of school­ing that we are ca­pa­ble of of­fer­ing?

Our con­cerns are em­bed­ded in sev­eral is­sues. First, teacher train­ing in­sti­tu­tions are not nec­es­sar­ily at­tract­ing peo­ple who have a pas­sion for and com­mit­ment to­wards teach­ing. Some see ed­u­ca­tion as a means to a salary.

Be­com­ing a teacher de­mands a shift away from medi­ocrity to­wards higher stan­dards and goals. Low salaries, poor work­ing con­di­tions and lethargy mit­i­gate against this noble pro­fes­sion.

The sec­ond im­por­tant con­cern is the lack of ad­e­quate de­part­men­tal sup­port. It of­ten seems that the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion (DoBE) would be con­tent if it could en­sure that a warm body was lo­cated in each class­room that fell un­der its ju­ris­dic­tion.

The DoBE has yet to dis­play the ca­pac­ity to mon­i­tor teach­ing in class­rooms and, even if it did, the labour bod­ies would sim­ply re­ject it.

The third con­cern is the lack of re­sources and the dwin­dling of ex­ist­ing re­sources. We of­ten visit schools and no­tice that there are, in too many in­stances, in­ad­e­quate desks and chairs avail­able for all the learn­ers.

Many class­rooms are di­lap­i­dated and not con­ducive to mean­ing­ful learn­ing.

The rea­son for the pre­dic­tion of the demise of the pub­lic school is re­lated to the di­rec­tion in which our schools are head­ing, in terms of the con­duct of our learn­ers.

Teach­ers are help­less when faced by vi­o­lent on­slaughts from re­bel­lious learn­ers whose pro­cliv­i­ties for crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity are dis­qui­et­ing.

Many in­ci­dents have been re­ported and some mis­de­meanours make us won­der whether we have any hope for our chil­dren.

The beat­ing up of teach­ers is not a new phe­nom­e­non in South Africa, but its in­creased fre­quency is be­com­ing alarm­ing.

The ab­sence of an al­ter­na­tive strat­egy to cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment as a way of main­tain­ing “dis­ci­pline” has left a void and teach­ers are un­sure where this would all lead to.

This has the po­ten­tial of re­sult­ing in greater teacher ab­sen­teeism, pre­ma­ture teacher re­tire­ments and mi­gra­tion of teach­ers to coun­tries abroad, where salaries, work­ing en­vi­ron­ments, and prospects for ca­reer ad­vance­ment are bet­ter than that of­fered lo­cally.

Cru­cially, real, not imag­ined, school gov­er­nance and ap­pli­ca­tion of laws and rules might be what teach­ers, many of whom feel un­der siege, yearn for.

A pos­si­ble con­se­quence of this is that our class­rooms will then be oc­cu­pied by in­creas­ing num­bers of un­qual­i­fied or un­der­qual­i­fied, stand-in teach­ers, or we may have an in­crease in class­rooms com­pletely de­void of teach­ing per­son­nel.

As we ac­cel­er­ate into the ed­u­ca­tion morass which con­tin­ues to be un­der­pinned by a clas­sist and racialised phi­los­o­phy, our mori­bund school­ing sys­tem con­tin­ues to be rud­der­less.

We are not sug­gest­ing we re­turn to the ab­hor­rent prac­tice of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment.

What is re­quired is for coura­geous, in­sight­ful in­tel­lec­tu­als, prac­ti­tion­ers and an­a­lysts to raise con­scious­ness about vi­o­lence in schools and to ad­dress this in creative ways that will suit the South African con­text, given its so­cio-po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

We need to delve deeper into the psy­che of so­ci­ety. We learned many years ago that schools are a mi­cro­cosm of so­ci­ety and never has this truth been more real as it un­folds to­day.

Class­room knowl­edge has be­come sub­sumed by the quo­tid­ian in­ci­dence of mur­der, rape, pil­lag­ing, ar­son and worth­less vi­o­lence un­fold­ing on our streets.

As our chil­dren gaze out the win­dows of their class­rooms, these crit­i­cal in­ci­dents that pro­duce deeper learn­ing play out.

Chil­dren then per­pet­u­ate the vi­o­lence that they have learned so well by at­tack­ing, maim­ing or mur­der­ing their teach­ers and peers, as our lead­er­less so­ci­ety looks on.

As a so­ci­ety, we have not learned to deal non-vi­o­lently with dis­agree­ments.

In South Africa, the in­dis­sol­u­ble link of his­tor­i­cal com­plic­ity with the mean­ing of lead­er­ship as hav­ing power over oth­ers plays it­self out daily.

We are among the most vi­o­lent so­ci­eties in world and this is ably re­in­forced and fu­elled by the rhetoric of po­lit­i­cal fac­tions whose self­ish sur­vival is rooted in vi­o­lently di­vid­ing our so­ci­ety. Change must hap­pen, but from within each per­son.

A while ago a child was in­ter­viewed about his role in car­jack­ings and his re­sponse was: “My mother said it was okay to take from oth­ers be­cause they have a lot.”

So, what is hap­pen­ing in schools is sim­ply a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the ills that as­sail the homes, com­mu­ni­ties and the en­tire coun­try and, to some ex­tent, the world at large.

Sad­dened by the many clips of teach­ers be­ing beaten, killed and mocked, we re­treated to writ­ing about it in the hope of start­ing more con­ver­sa­tions around this crit­i­cal is­sue. Do our chil­dren re­ally un­der­stand how for­tu­nate they are to have teach­ers?

And here is an­other re­lated con­cern.

Have we be­come a so­ci­ety that does not show grat­i­tude?

It is un­usual to find peo­ple say­ing thank you for ser­vices.

We have lead­ers and men­tors who ap­pear al­most daily on tele­vi­sion rant­ing and rav­ing about what we don’t have.

It is sel­dom that we hear any­one show­ing ap­pre­ci­a­tion for what we do have. We need to change this and this change must oc­cur very quickly, or those that in­cite the vi­o­lence will con­tinue to ac­crue wealth and po­lit­i­cal mileage to the detri­ment of the masses.

We need a Nel­son Man­dela, or Pam Christie, or Des­mond Tutu, or Jonathan Jansen of this day to step forth and de­velop strate­gies to re­move the shack­les that hin­der our growth and de­vel­op­ment.

Seated in all of our class­rooms are po­ten­tial sci­en­tists, math­e­ma­ti­cians, in­ven­tors, de­vel­op­ers and en­trepreneurs. How can they ever ful­fil that la­tent tal­ent if schools do not func­tion as en­vis­aged?

We need to es­tab­lish and main­tain vi­o­lence-free schools. For now, that should be our im­me­di­ate aim. Not teach­ing, be­cause how can be­sieged, en­dan­gered teach­ers be ex­pected to teach ef­fec­tively?.

Not learn­ing, be­cause how can threat­ened, en­dan­gered learn­ers be ex­pected to learn ef­fec­tively?

For now, let us be­gin with the main­te­nance of vi­o­lence-free zones. That is what we need to train our teach­ers to do.

Teacher-train­ing in­sti­tu­tions need to in­clude strate­gies to recog­nise and ad­dress vi­o­lence as a core mod­ule.

Teach­ers need to be trained to deal with vi­o­lence in schools. Par­ents and com­mu­ni­ties need to be brought into the con­ver­sa­tion about vi­o­lence in schools.

When this is ad­dressed, then it might be pos­si­ble for mean­ing­ful teach­ing and learn­ing to start in earnest.

When will lead­ers look at the de­cay­ing, deca­dent state of pub­lic school­ing and see it for what it re­ally is?

When will a gi­ant leader who is coura­geous and self­less, who re­fuses to be dis­tracted by the de­ceit­ful and ma­nip­u­la­tive ten­den­cies of those in power, emerge to map a way for­ward and nur­ture the young peo­ple of our coun­try in the pub­lic school­ing sys­tem?

By ig­nor­ing vi­o­lence in schools, which fu­els mul­ti­di­men­sional poverty and in­equal­ity, we risk sink­ing fur­ther into an abyss of chaos.

We need the voice of an ed­u­ca­tional leader to de­velop pri­or­i­ties in our schools, to en­able them to be­come spa­ces where ef­fec­tive teach­ing and learn­ing can take place with­out fear and anx­i­ety about safety.

Pro­fes­sor Vimolan Mudaly and Dr Ronicka Mudaly are aca­demics at the Uni­ver­sity of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Ed­u­ca­tion and have had a com­bined ex­pe­ri­ence of serv­ing as sec­ondary teach­ers for 40 years in pub­lic schools.

Vi­o­lence-free zones in South Africa’s schools should be a pri­or­ity for get­ting ed­u­ca­tion back on its feet again

PIC­TURE: REUTERS/AFRICAN NEWS AGENCY (ANA) ARCHIVES

A file pic­ture of pupils in a class­room. The writ­ers say they of­ten visit schools and no­tice that there are, in too many in­stances, in­ad­e­quate desks and chairs avail­able for all the learn­ers.

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