The Basic Education Minister’s dangerous experimentation with lowering the pass rate amounts to the destruction of the future of poorer black and coloured children, reducing their less resourced schools into factories that churn out uncritical, unskilled and unemployable labourers. This is nothing short of the return to Bantu Education, writes MATTHEW “MAKS” FOSTER
The so-called Rainbow Nation is a landscape characterised by compromise and the uncomfortable silencing of truths which speak to intergenerational trauma and collective consciousness. This is socialisation in South Africa; to inherit the pain and disadvantages of the past, but to learn to “transcend” it. It is a lifestyle, and a culture of erasure; a bouquet of niceties meant to appease the monopoly and minority capitalists whose yes is gospel and whose no is hellfire. This minority has the capacity to ensure that their children never have to experience the hardships of township life, nor, more specifically, quintiles three and lower in the government schooling system.
Effectively, this minority’s children are fully prepared, by their twelfth year of learning, to take the world on, as they have been equipped with the appropriate cognitive tools to do so. Those children are not of interest to us here, because there is substantially less to be concerned about when comparing an IEB scholar to one that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) supplements.
Education is by no means apolitical, and neither is it isolated between generations, as it is transmitted from one generation to the next through the process of socialisation. To believe that the child of a parent who was educated under Bantu Education has as much of an equal opportunity as a White child is not only ignorant, but dangerous. But the focus here is not on the parent of the child. I would like to draw your attention to the characteristics of Bantu Education and what it aimed to achieve, and will further explain the relevance of this in the context within which we find ourselves in the year 2017, as educators and scholars of basic education.
Bantu Education was intended to develop a semi-skilled (Black) workforce meant to feed the Volkskapitalisme that kept the Apartheid state well-oiled. The intention was to eliminate any and all competition for White workers, to use the hidden curriculum to instil superiority among Whites and inferiority in Black children, and to normalise Apartheid on a psychological level. This was further done through an unfair allocation of resources between races, thus making it just as material as it was pedagogic and curricular.
It is neither a myth nor a misconception that most White scholars in 2017 still have a better chance at receiving a solid education than their Black counterparts. If this is not the truth, then perhaps it is of interest for the speculative reader to find a White school that is literally falling apart, or to find a White child who falls victim to the farm practice of stokkiesdraai (forced truancy to perform seasonal farm labour); to find a school attended by White children where textbooks have not been delivered, or where the environment is simply too dangerous or expansive to navigate to get to school.
These are unheard of in White schools, and by White schools I mean IEB and quintile three to five government schools; the so-called “little England on a veld”, and the haven for Boer nationalism that is the post-apartheid White Afrikaans school. It is mind-numbing to argue that a Black or Coloured child in attendance at these schools will not grow up alienated as the exceptional child of colour, “different” from her/his peers in the cultural hub that is the township; so different from even their grandparents that their accents mark them out, never mind the fact that they might not even speak the language of their own people, be that language Sesotho or kombuis Afrikaans. But I digress; this is about the children who do not have the privilege to attend these schools.
Bantu Education was by no means a major psychological stimulant to the social stratification of Black society. So-called clever Blacks were taught in mission schools, as Christians, because Christian education is a “humanising” education, and “humanising” entails that those who do not come up under the tutelage of a priest or a nun are obviously implicitly less human, because that is what a curriculum’s function is, whether covertly or explicitly: to humanise. But once more, I digress; this is not about Christian (Nationalist or not) Education either, but about Bantu Education in a neo-apartheid context.
When Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced last week that a “skills revolution” was needed, one would have thought that the DBE would be implementing the twinning system across the board in Gauteng to ensure more rapid and even development. An educated guess would be that she would be rolling out an ICT initiative in collaboration with a telecommunications organisation in rural areas to shorten the distance between class and home for learners in those areas. Hell, I myself thought that she was on the verge of introducing ethically trained truancy officers to ensure that all learners were in class, but no. By “skills revolution” our aunty Angie really meant, and what teachers’ union SADTU then proudly endorsed, was in fact a lowering of endorsement standards which would guide the capacity at which a learner would have to be performing to move from one grade to the next.
Aunty Angie is ready to make mathematics and thus mathematical reasoning optional, but she preaches the gospel of a “skills revolution” that she bases on a pass mark of 30% for half of the subjects a learner takes, and 40% for the other half, one of which must be a language, consequently also potentially lowering national reading and writing scores.
What kind of “skills revolution” is this? This is the mass production of cheap labour, the mass industrialisation of a workforce that literally only qualifies for manual and menial labour, where the school is little more than a factory for uncritical workers. It is poetically destructive on all fronts; not only to the children who go through this education system, but to the generation which follows as well.
I say in no uncertain terms that education is only for the rich in South Africa. I say without a shiver of a doubt that Angie Motshekga wants us Blacks and Coloureds to know our place as manual labourers and domestic workers; that she has been paving this road to poverty for millennial born “frees” since she entered office in 2009, and is responsible for any crime rates which will consequently be fed by high school drop-out and illiteracy rates, and the poverty that it entails.
Motshekga does not seem to care about the fact that quality education is a basic human right; her “skills revolution” is only a resolution for teachers who practice the pedagogy of domination which the Apartheid state handed down through those who remained behind in the system.
But we will not say this, because Aunty Angie she is a member of the liberation party; never mind the fact that calling this a return to Bantu Education is not an argument of false equivalence, but an actual epistemic comparison which she should be referring to, rather than mentioning Finland’s schooling system, which in 2012, had a ratio of 13.56 learners to every teacher, while RSA came in at 30.4 learners per teacher. This should be basic knowledge; one simply cannot measure the two populations along the same lines and expect similar outcomes.
Yet, the line of argument remains that we, with drastically fewer resources, aspire to reach what substantially smaller populations do. Aunty Angie has stated in no uncertain terms that she has made this adjustment to align the requirements to pass in senior phase with that of FET, thus completing the cycle.
Angie Motshekga is guilty of sabotaging the future of South Africa. She is only proving to be a juggernaut of epistemic destruction, moulding the minds of children along the lines of non-critical environmental reasoning.
What we are seeing is an effective epistemic return to Bantu Education, because the learners that will be most affected by this decision are undeniably and visibly Black and Coloured. The children who will be performing at a cognitive capacity of 30%, minus mathematical reasoning, will not be White, but will be the children who are already expected to fail. It is not a White child who drops out of school at the age of 15 because the Constitution that is supposed to protect her/him fails to do so; it is a child with Black or Brown skin.
Angie Motshekga and SADTU are guilty of colonial administration, of joining the White elite to exploit the Black proletariat and precariat; they are Verwoerdians in denial, as the proposed pass requirements are nothing short of ushering in an easily exploitable working class which only benefits the monopoly and minority capitalists of the so-called Rainbow Nation. What is the intention? To take poorly performing learners and place them into institutions which will completely limit their chances in life to manual labour and call it a “skills revolution”? What kind of education is that?
Irony has a way of coming back with her sister, Revenge. One day, Aunty Angie and her miseducators will account to history for the contradictions of SADTU’s Vision 2020 and the DBE’s policies. It is worth noting that the very theory that SADTU bases its ideology on was abundantly clear in denouncing “banking method” teaching, but that is precisely what these miseducators have resorted to. Education has become a numbers game; a game of passes and fails, of percentages and ratios, of swallowing and regurgitating. It is not a game at all to begin with, and neither are children an experiment.
This does not fall squarely at the ANC’s feet, as the DA has done nothing to remediate the situation that children on the Cape Flats face on a daily basis; hiding behind their pass rates and completely leaving the massive drop-out rates in their Western Cape province unresolved. Education is supposed to be about literacy and not a pass rate in the first place, but teacher unions only ever protest for better salaries, forgetting why they are teaching in the first place. The so-called Rainbow Nation is characterised by a landscape of compromise, but this is called selling out. It is a cardinal sin to mislead a child. It seems that Jesus really is on his way after all.
*Foster is an activist focusing education and Fees Must Fall. He aspires to be a teacher one day