There’s a price tag attached to quality
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, email@example.com; 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.