Belfast school battles a symptom of a crisis
IMATRICULATED from Belfast High School (BHS) in what is now the local municipality of eMakhazeni in Nkangala district, in Mpumalanga, in 1973. I was invited to be the guest speaker at a function on May 13 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1967 matric class. I accepted the invitation with pride and enthusiasm.
My school career can hardly be described as illustrious, other than perhaps for being a trumpet player in the cadet band which came first in South Africa in 1971. I was always in trouble and only did selectively well in subjects for which I had a natural aptitude.
BHS was a dual-medium, co-education (English and Afrikaans, boys and girls) government high school. Pupils were gathered mainly from the local farming community but included a few strays from as far away as Johannesburg and Mozambique. For those who qualified, the fees were minimal — my entire five years of high school education, including full board and lodging, cost less than R1 000.
BHS was an ordinary school for ordinary people, but with high standards of discipline that delivered a standard of education good enough to get you into any tertiary education institution of your choice.
The food in the hostel was basic but nourishing, and there were few extras, unless you could afford the occasional 5c, which is what it cost to enjoy a cup of milk with lunch. I loved it. I have returned to the school a number of times, just to wander about, but at the reunion we got a closer look and were exposed to some of the facts and figures.
The school is now an amalgamation of the primary and high schools that were separate in my time — economic necessity, no doubt. Some things hadn’t changed. It was pouring with rain on that Saturday morning, but the boys were out practising rugby regardless, barefoot and as enthusiastic as ever.
Some things have changed, for the worse. The school is surrounded by security fencing, and the hostels were clearly in a state of advanced decay. BHS is battling, battling to get a full complement of trained teaching staff, battling to maintain facilities and battling to survive financially, despite the very impressive efforts of the headmaster and his team.
There isn’t enough money going into education, and there damn well should be.
Private schools, where supply exceeds demand, are funded by the parents. Government schools are being left behind. Further privatisation will only further entrench the economic divide, so that’s not the solution.
The state must assume full responsibility for the funding of school education in South Africa, for all of its citizens. It’s not an expense, it’s an investment.
Funding tertiary education can be done in partnership with business (the ultimate users of the product). The funding of primary and secondary education would better be solved by a direct tax structure, an education tax, a
[Education] is not an expense, it’s an investment
school tax, that goes directly to the schools on a “meet the costs, balance the books” every year basis.
How should the money be spent? Ask the teachers and the parents. Until that’s done, any personal expenditure on education should be fully tax deductible.
Our unemployed figure, at 27.7%, is the highest in 13 years. Its components are increasingly the youth and those with an education below matric. We have 17 million people on social grants, expected to grow to 18 million within three years.
The way out of these economically crippling realities is education, education, education. We can’t spend too much on it, and we can’t start too soon.
Barnes is CEO of the South African Post Office