4IR has prospect to free up access to education in the country

Wits students gather as part of the #FeesMustFall movement in September 2016. / ALON SKUY
Wits students gather as part of the #FeesMustFall movement in September 2016. / ALON SKUY

South African struggles, political or otherwise, have always been by historic movements of students who sought better education.

The 1976 Soweto uprisings and the #FeesMustFall movement are two of the most remembered student movements in South Africa to shift policy both in discourse terms and action, albeit very unsatisfactorily.

Many see in the data revolution and in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) a prospect for liberating access to education.

The constraints of bricks and mortar and the good teacher, and its impact on access to education, is finally going to be replaced by education on the hoof, and it will be open to all.

Nigerian professor Chukuka Okonjo became the director of the United Nations Regional Institute for Population Studies based at the University of Ghana.

This is where I did my post-grad studies in population studies and he was my professor.

In a remarkable lecture he put across to deal with the constraints of bricks and mortar and the good teacher, he proposed a double intake system at universities and a move towards an effective and efficient use of educational resources.

He would hazard that with the oil-rich Nigeria, it was possible and Nigeria could revolutionise its human resources and tackle its challenges. There is very little evidence suggesting that his call was attended to.

In South Africa, we need to confront the vexed question of what June 16 should mean for us.

June 16 was an express struggle of black children's hunger for education to liberate them from the mundane daily struggles of life.

It was a cry to remove the political barriers and state brute force that deliberately stopped them from access.

In similar ways, the #FeesMustFall movement is a loud cry for access and removal of deceptive history in teaching - what is referred to as decolonised education.

What Soweto has become is a hinterland for schools in suburbs where the teachers are white.

Because of this, black children are bound to ask themselves the difficult question of whether black excellence is possible, or is it only by accident?

Secondly, this pits township children attending schools in suburbia against their township counterparts - an unnecessary breeding of conflict.

Black teachers are always at risk of losing their jobs as their schools face ever- diminishing populations and before we know it there is a strike by the teachers.

The cycle of destruction is so massive that we need to pause and ask ourselves the question of what June 16 meant. What #FeesMustFall meant.

What the level of unemployment reaching 30% and afflicting the youth at menacing speed and force means.

What 4IR implies for June 16 aspirations.

I will assert that our policy focus is far from answering June 16 as a point of reference for etching our education in the spirit of Tsietsi Mashinini.

The much-talked-about 4IR is bound to fail to answer what June 16 and #FeesMustFall meant.

The answer is similar to the one Okonjo got when he advocated a double intake at universities in Nigeria in order to address the pressing needs of human resources requirements.

The 4IR regarding access and the good teacher will pass us by if we fail to embrace what was and remains at the core of June 16 and the #FeesMustFall movement.

The effects of failure to recognise these pillars bleeds into the fate of the township economy, with which education was intrinsically tied.

Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa. Follow him on Twitter @PaliLehohla

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