Education is a societal responsibility: A call for back to basics

Opinion Piece by Mntomuhle Khawula, MPL

Every pedagogue will tell you that when undergoing training for the profession, there is great emphasis on the activity of education being like a three-legged pot. The three legs of this pot represent the teacher or educator (who stands for the entire education system), the parent/guardian (who stands for the community), and the child/learner (who is the ‘object’ upon whom knowledge is being imparted). The strong cooperation of these three is very important in order for the activity of educating to be a success. Obviously, if one leg breaks, or has defects, the pot is unable to stand firm for the proper balance. The same goes for education, if one of these three withdraws its full cooperation or participation, the whole system suffers defects.

When the IFP makes a call for a back to basics in our education system in the country, it is on the basis of this understanding in mind. It is not only the IFP that has made this call for a back to basics in education, other concerned sectors in some quarters of our society have repeatedly made the same call. In the African context, a child is a child of the community. In the valleys of Umzumbe where I grew up, every adult person in the area is accorded the same status and respect of being your parent. If there is a transgression by the child, remedial action would not necessarily await the attention of a biological parent, but any adult member of society who is adjacent would bear responsibility for undertaking remedial action. It is in this context that the African maxim of Umuntu Ungumuntu Ngabantu (I am because of others) also finds solace. Besides the African philosophy of a way of life, other education systems around the world also incorporate the same philosophy of a way of life and socialisation though in varying degrees.

Where have we gone wrong as a people? Industrialisation that came with colonialism introduced migratory labour in our way of life. A new way of exchange of goods where money became the important means of exchange also found its way into our lives. These changes forced families to live apart from one another. As a result, parenting also got affected where the mother(s), usually, assumed the sole responsibility for the upbringing of children whilst the father was away for a long time because of the imposed new system of life.

Then came violence. Both political violence and the faction fights caused great instability among our communities. Violence tore families apart. Violence caused social ills of single parent families and child-headed households. Violence also caused a stir in our moral and ethical values. Previously detested criminal activities like necklacing became a way of punishing opponents. Criminal activities such as rape escalated. In some instances, teachers/educators, who had been previously regarded as highly respected people in our communities, also lost value of their dignity, due to a variety of factors. The project of causing the ungorvenability of the country did not only affect the authorities, but communities/societies and families were also affected in many ways. Education is one of the institutions that got a knock from this. Then came the scourge of HIV/AIDS. This caused more devastation into the family life structure of our communities. It led into single parent households and child headed households/families. All these devastating social and health hazards had terrible bearings in the provision of education in our education system and the socialisation of growing children.

There are many other factors that have negatively impacted upon the education system of our country. Teenage pregnancy, which has increased these days, has resulted into babies and children being cared for by their grandmothers whilst their young mothers are trying to also put their lives together elsewhere. This has also removed the biological parents away from the direct upbringing of the child and entrusted such responsibility to an extended member of the child’s family. The increased levels of crime, especially women and children abuse, has also impacted upon parenting in our communities. With all these and other milestones not mentioned here taking place, it shows that the impact into the three-legged pot of our education system has been enormous.

Many educators, especially in the rural areas, used to have accommodation provided for them not far away from the schools where they educate. This is no more these days. Educators prefer to have accommodation somewhere in the towns and cities, and will commute to and from work on daily basis. We are talking here about distances of close to 100 km a single trip per day. Imagine what this does to the school starting time in the morning, and what it does to the school’s finishing time in the afternoon. The ethos that a teacher remains a teacher for 24 hours a day also gets affected due to exhaustion caused by long distance travelling.

The levels of discipline among school going children have gone down these days. Educators are struggling with the ways and means of how to implement effective yet legal means of enforcing discipline in schools. There is a very thin line between disciplining the child and getting a legal challenge against you in court if you are a teacher.

Some parents have deliberately abdicated their parenting role because of circumstances mentioned earlier, other parents have also moved away unintentionally from their parenting roles because of the circumstances earlier mentioned. The three-legged pot is weakened by circumstances. Authorities need to begin to find ways and means of strengthening this cooperation of the three stakeholders.

Where security is a concern in schools, it is because one leg has a defect in the system. Where discipline is a problem, it is because one of the three legs has a defect. Where learners are not performing well, it is because one of the legs has a defect. We need authorities and an education system that will seriously look into addressing these defects in our system. Where teacher accommodation is a challenge, the department of human settlements must provide solutions. Where security is an issue, the department of safety and security must provide solutions. Where social ills are a concern, the department of social development must provide solutions. Remember, education is a societal responsibility and thus an inter-departmental multi dsisciplinary approach even from government is necessary. The challenges are so compounded that the department of education alone can no longer be expected to resolve every thing by itself without a meaningful participation of all other relevant departments.

Whilst there is talk of an introduction and preparedness for the 4th industrial revolution these days for our education system to be able to keep with the times, these efforts will be hampered by these hurdles if they are not given the required attention. The 4IR developments are quickly taking over and we will be left behind as a province if we are not ready to embrace the fast approaching developments. The sad part of this is that the world will not be waiting for us to sort our things first. More innovations are taking place and we are getting left behind. Whilst our education needs more money to employ more quality educators, to introduce modern equipment for the modern classroom, to improve the overall conditions of the school infrastructure throughout the country, to improve the easy accessibility of schools by learners, to improve innovation, research and development, but the bottom line is that if the three legs of the pot still have these immense defects, we will keep on pouring more financial resources into a system that does not improve.

The activity of educating today, and the task of the educators, is competing against many information platforms such as the print media, the electronic media, social media, the internet and others. These platforms are helpful if used correctly, but can also be disastrous if used wrongly. Some of these platforms are more powerful than the educators in their influence to the youth. That is why schools are encouraged to devise school policies on the use of cell phones which give access to these platforms.

Government has also not yet fully analysed and assessed the amalgamation of the schooling system. To what extent has the schooling system transformed in South Africa? Who has really benefitted from the schooling system amalgamation? If the amalgamation of the schooling system was meant to lift up the previously disadvantaged to the same level as the previously advantaged, has this been achieved, and to what degree? How much has the amalgamation of the schooling system contributed to the creation of a middle-class community in the country? This might not be much of a serious issue, but the issue is, how is the creation of a middle-class community also contributing to the divide in the education provision in the country, i.e. better education for those who can afford financially and low-level education for the poorest of the poor?

These are all questions that the parent component of the leg in the three-legged pot should be asking if the pot is to stand firm without any defects. Therefore, our parents in our communities must wake up and stand firm for the education of their children.

Hon Mntomuhle B Khawula,
MPL and Member of the Education Portfolio Committee in KZN Provincial Legislature.

071 207 9445