There’s a price tag at­tached to qual­ity

Pretoria News - - OPINION - Ka­belo Cha­bal­ala

IAM yet to come across any­thing of qual­ity that is of­fered for free. Gen­er­ally if some­thing is free, it is usu­ally low in qual­ity. Then it all leads to a great lack in ex­cel­lence. The un­e­d­u­cated call for free ed­u­ca­tion is no dif­fer­ent.

Look no fur­ther than our pub­lic schools and com­pare them to in­de­pen­dent schools where par­ents pay school fees. The qual­ity is vastly dif­fer­ent.

In the vil­lage where I grew up, no mat­ter how poor we were, par­ents who could af­ford to, sac­ri­ficed to get their kids into pri­vate schools for a bet­ter, qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion.

Ev­ery­where you a price.

Just be­cause peo­ple are poor doesn’t mean they don’t recog­nise and ap­pre­ci­ate qual­ity.

This got me think­ing about the call for free ed­u­ca­tion.

It won’t be a win for our coun­try. We of­ten en­joy cel­e­brat­ing the small vic­to­ries in our bat­tles, not re­al­is­ing th­ese will even­tu­ally cost us the war.

Let’s start with the ba­sics. I am a prod­uct of an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that is ap­palling. It pro­duces be­low-par re­sults with a bar that has been set low. Masses of learn­ers pass Grade 12, be­cause all they need in most cases is a 30% pass.

It’s not about striv­ing for qual­ity but rather a mass pro­duc­tion of quan­tity.

I asked some of the teachers from my home vil­lage about the logic be­hind a pass that re­quired learn­ers to ob­tain 40% in three sub­jects (one be­ing a home lan­guage) and 30% in other sub­jects.

They re­sponded: “We are here just to get the learn­ers to move to the next level with­out wor­ry­ing about the qual­ity of learn­ers we are pro­duc­ing.”

They went fur­ther: “Mr Cha­bal­ala, that is what you get for not pay­ing a cent. That is why we, as teachers, take our kids to schools that strive for aca­demic ex­cel­lence.”

The teachers are well aware of the dan­gers that come with free things.

This is a re­minder of any­thing that is pub­lic and free in our coun­try. Yes, go qual­ity has no­body is do­ing any­thing about the low qual­ity of our ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion that has adopted this friv­o­lous sys­tem.

Look at our pub­lic hospi­tals and pub­lic clin­ics. Gen­er­ally, their ser­vices are poor. Why? They serve our peo­ple for free, that’s why.

Free things lack qual­ity. Qual­ity is some­thing you pay for. Peo­ple who want qual­ity ser­vices run to pri­vate hospi­tals.

The same thing is go­ing to hap­pen to our uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges if they ever be­come free.

Ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion will be there but qual­ity won’t be on of­fer. Peo­ple who have money and who en­joy eco­nomic priv­i­leges in our coun­try will con­tinue to be a step ahead of those who don’t. We will not be nar­row­ing the gap, but widen­ing it even more.

Loans, bur­saries and schol­ar­ships help those who can’t af­ford it to get a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion.

Mak­ing uni­ver­si­ties free would mean that more pri­vate col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties will open to serve those who have money.

And just like we have pri­vate schools that of­fer qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and strive for aca­demic ex­cel­lence, we will, again, be widen­ing the gap even fur­ther.

Peo­ple have a right to en­rol their chil­dren where they want to. Just as peo­ple who have money ditch pub­lic schools, they will avoid our tra­di­tional uni­ver­si­ties as qual­ity drops. That is the war I was re­fer­ring to above. Wits Univer­sity, the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria and the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg, to name a few, of­fer qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion. But mak­ing them do it for free will dras­ti­cally re­duce the stan­dard.

The school of thought that be­lieves mak­ing ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion free will help us fight eco­nomic priv­i­lege is flawed in its logic.

If we think that ob­tain­ing diplo­mas and de­grees is the lev­eller of our so­cial and eco­nomic im­bal­ances, we are wrong. It will show only how poor we are and how the rich con­tinue to be rich.

I am all for the call to make it more af­ford­able, but not free. Our eco­nomic in­jus­tices are heart­break­ing. To make ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion free will alien­ate those who have money. That is re­gres­sive.

The eco­nom­i­cally priv­i­leged will ex­clu­sively take their chil­dren to pri­vate ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions that are paid for.

Free ed­u­ca­tion will not square up the poor and the rich. But pay­ing for great qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion for a black, poor child in spa­ces where the rich also ap­pre­ci­ate and take their kids to is more pro­gres­sive.

Let us cham­pion ways to get more black stu­dents to univer­sity with­out com­pro­mis­ing the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion. That means, we need to find af­ford­able ways.

There is no way we are go­ing to main­tain qual­ity stan­dards at uni­ver­si­ties that we en­joy to­day if the uni­ver­si­ties are free.

How­ever, if our goal is only to get higher ed­u­ca­tion qual­i­fi­ca­tions and not qual­ity higher ed­u­ca­tion qual­i­fi­ca­tions, lets go ahead and not charge.

The truth is qual­ity is ex­pen­sive and it’s costly. It needs to be paid for. In the long run, we will re­alise that the cry for free ed­u­ca­tion is an un­e­d­u­cated call for a poor coun­try like ours.

Ka­belo Cha­bal­ala is the founder of the Young Men Move­ment. Email, ka­be­lo03cha­bal­; Twit­ter, @Ka­be­loJay; Face­book, Ka­belo Cha­bal­ala

Stu­dents dur­ing the #FeesMustFall protest. The stan­dard will drop and in­equal­ity will deepen if ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion is free, says the writer.

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