It is using the black child as cannon fodder

FLASHBACK: Cosas members protest outside Protea magistrates' court in March. Pic. Antonio Muchave. 13/03/07. © Sowetan.
FLASHBACK: Cosas members protest outside Protea magistrates' court in March. Pic. Antonio Muchave. 13/03/07. © Sowetan.

"We will take primary school children out of school if need be, and we will stop grade 12s from writing exams."

"We will take primary school children out of school if need be, and we will stop grade 12s from writing exams."

These are the chilling threats of Gauteng's provincial secretary of Cosas Masakheni Magadla.

Magadla and his organisation have threatened to use black children as cannon fodder to pursue their campaign to force the Education Department to adopt a "pass one, pass all'' policy for this year's matriculants.

Cosas is demanding that 20percent be added to all final examination marks. It is also demanding that the department give pupils full marks for incomplete portfolios that constitute 15percent of the year-end marks.

In making these demands, it ignores the fact that giving away marks undermines the quality of the results pupils obtain.

It is a foolhardy move because it will eventually undermine the quality of graduates our education system produces.

Under the pretext of being revolutionaries, Cosas' leaders are even prepared to ignore the courts of this democratic country to pursue their misguided campaign.

Magadla indicated they would ignore the court interdict by the Gauteng education department prohibiting it from intimidating or inciting pupils to boycott classes in the province.

Many current leaders in business, politics and civil society are former Cosas members. But that was the Cosas of the 1980s which took the apartheid government on and demanded quality education for the black child.

That Cosas understood that the Bantu education the apartheid government fed the black child was part of a political strategy to turn black people into hewers of wood and drawers of water. Hence, it saw itself as part of the broader liberation movement.

Out of the ranks of that revolutionary Cosas rose the likes of former presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo and current Softball South Africa president Guillo Marapyane.

Today these individuals are showing the revolutionary spirit they imbibed as student leaders by being trailblazers in their various fields of work.

Part of this democratic government's commitment is to provide quality education. This means that the role of Cosas has to change.

It should play a watchdog role to ensure the government fulfils its commitment to provide quality education - especially to the black child. It must do so in a manner that does not undermine the aspirations of the broader student community.

Cosas needs to understand that it cannot continue to use the tactics of boycott willy-nilly to the extent of "cutting off its nose to spite its face".

Indeed, learning was interrupted this year when teachers went on strike. But as a credible student organisation, what it should have done was to ensure that the recovery plan initiated by the government was effective.

It should have ensured that the government made the necessary resources available - including paying teachers - for the campaign to run effectively.

They should also have engaged teacher bodies and ensured that all role players put their shoulders to the wheel to make the recovery a success.

Cosas complains that it was not consulted about the Recovery Plan. It also argues the campaign puts pressure on pupils.

Cosas should have shown its leadership dynamism and initiative by approaching the department and offering to be part of the campaign.

If the department rejected its offer, it would have the moral high ground to argue that the campaign could not succeed without key protagonists - pupils it is supposed to represent.

As for the question of pressure on pupils, Cosas must know success comes from hard work. To complain about pressure does nothing to show its commitment to hard work.

Instead of showing quality leadership and engaging the various stakeholders to find a solution that will ensure hard working pupils are not disadvantaged, Cosas is throwing its toys out of the cot.

In the process, it is threatening to pull down the very pupils in whose interests it claims to be acting.

This behaviour does nothing to dispel the perception that it is led by underperformers holding hard-working pupils to ransom.

Cosas' biggest challenge is to review its strategic objectives in the context of South Africa's new democratic order.

It must ask itself: What is the role of a progressive and democratic student organisation in a democratic South Africa?

Threatening to pull primary school pupils out of classes or denigrating the value of exam results are not the right routes to take.