Why the hype when schools reopen?

IT MIGHT be gratifying for some of our compatriots to see politicians - from councillors, parliamentarians right up to the presidency - running around, popping up in schools across the length and breadth of our country, mostly unannounced, ostensibly to ensure that schools open on time and start teaching on the first day.

IT MIGHT be gratifying for some of our compatriots to see politicians - from councillors, parliamentarians right up to the presidency - running around, popping up in schools across the length and breadth of our country, mostly unannounced, ostensibly to ensure that schools open on time and start teaching on the first day.

With the media in tow, cameras clicking, we subject ourselves to this hype every year. This razzmatazz might induce some to believe that our ailing education system is being fixed by this activity.

Actually, we should all weep - the louder, the better. This yearly spectacle is the most eloquent admission that our education is in deep trouble. The proof is the terrible yearly matriculation results that suggest that in the last 10 years, we have failed nearly three million of our children.

If we take into account those who drop out before Grade 12 and the under-prepared ones who proceed to university to fail, then the educational carnage we unleash on our children is simply mind-boggling.

Azapo accepts, unreservedly, that education is the most effective redress mechanism available.

Considering that it is mainly black children in township and rural schools who are at the receiving end of this disaster, the consequences are even more tragic.

And it is not Verwoerd doing this to us, we are doing it to ourselves.

It means the children of the poor are denied adequate education and skills that would give them a fighting chance to take part in the economy meaningfully and thereby escape the ravages of poverty.

Through this hugely unequal education, we are reproducing inequality among the races and perpetuating poverty. In the workplace, black people continue to do menial work while others do the managing and more skilled work.

Black people will continue to be the daily performers of the toyi-toyi in pursuance of better wages in the country of their birth. The added potency of education as a redress mechanism is that its benefits tend to be inter-generational: children of educated parents tend to get educated themselves.

The converse also tends to hold. Failure to educate the present generation of our young people means that we reduce the chances of their children being educated.

The opening of schools should be a routine and boring event. Ours is the only country where there is this huge political mobilisation just to open schools.

Most of the older generation among us will remember that it was not the case when we attended school in this country. This is a new development, clearly occasioned by the drastic decline in the delivery of education to our children.

What we need are systems that work, not a two or three-day campaign at the beginning of the year. We should develop and maintain systems that are dependable, predictable and accountable.

Presently, nobody in our education system is accountable to anyone. Nobody knows what is going on in our classrooms. The principals, district managers, ministers of education, right up to the head of state, do not know what is happening in our classrooms.

Politicians rock up at a school for a few hours, walk about, make a speech and then disappear for the rest of the year. It may look nice, but educationally it is just about as effective as trying to remove your wheel nuts with cotton wool.

The systems we put together must assure us that learning materials will be delivered on time, schools will start on time and teaching will take place. Those in the system who do not fulfil their responsibilities must face the consequences of their omission, laziness or incompetence.

The desired system should be run by professionals, with politicians playing only in the policy, budgetary and legislative spaces.

The director-general at national level should preside over a machinery that consists of his counterparts in the provinces, district managers, education specialists, right down to the principals.

The district managers should ensure that all schools under their jurisdiction have teachers, desks and other learning necessities. They should hold the principals to account if they do not perform.

Through their subject specialists, district managers should go into classrooms to observe and evaluate the teaching and learning process.

Principals should make sure that teachers and learners are in class on time and are engaged, in a disciplined manner, in the business of learning and teaching.

The immediate senior authority in this education hierarchy should ensure that those under him or her do their work according to the rules. Failure to do so should invite appropriate actions.

With this system running properly, we should open schools every year without a fuss and worry.

We owe our children an education experience that would give them a balanced, educated, skilled and confident future.

lThe writer is president of Azapo

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