Dying teachers, dying education
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
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.