Another Brick In The Wall

Just in case you thought otherwise, I don’t spend all my time cogitating about the demise of my veggies, playing bridge and gallivanting around on yachts. For my sins, I also volunteer as a teacher at, and fundraise for, the local, no-fee paying farm school at Curry’s Post.

The teaching part is challenging, mainly because the children don’t speak English and, I’m ashamed to say, my isiZulu is very basic. However, I am a qualified preschool teacher, with experience teaching 5-year olds (now called grade r) and running the University of Natal preschool for many years, during which time we developed and ran training programmes for rural preschool teachers. In the early 1980’s I also volunteered as an English teacher at a rural school in Zululand for two years. So teaching, you could say, is in my blood.

Every Thursday Thandi (our domestic worker) and I spend the morning supervising a group of 4-year olds. The grade r class has mixed ages (4- and 5-year olds together), so we give the littlies some one-on-one attention while the older children get on with their school readiness lessons. Every so often I wonder why the hell I’m giving myself more stuff to do, but when one of the children climbs onto my lap with a book wanting to be read to, or slips his / her hand into mine when we’re playing a game, it tends to make it all worthwhile. Occasionally the grade r teacher is absent and we get the entire grade r class for the morning. Then my littlies become quite proprietary, giving the older ones the lowdown on what they can and cannot do. And when we get together to sing action songs, they participate with such gusto as if to show the older children how it’s done.

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Fundraising is a different story. It was never my favourite activity when I worked in the NGO sector but of course it was a critical part of the work. In 1983, after living in rural Zululand for a couple of years, I returned to Durban and found a job with an NGO called the Career Information Centre. Living in a rural area and teaching in a rural school had opened my eyes to the huge structural inequalities that existed in South Africa. I didn’t want to go back to teaching in a segregated preschool but rather I wanted to try to make a contribution to education through the non-racial civil society sector. CIC had been started by an organisation called Women for Peaceful Change to make vocational guidance available to disadvantaged kids and it was my job to start a resource centre and develop relevant careers guidance materials for schools. Later, it became part of my job to raise funds for the Resource Centre and a mobile unit that we took out to rural schools.

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In 1989, when Kiera was 3 years old, she attended the University of Natal preschool, which was run by a committee of university staff, and was very much non-racial. Later that year they advertised for a principal, I applied and got the job. It wasn’t long before we started working with community based organisations that wanted to establish preschools. Again, this required fundraising.

Kiera's preschool end-of -year concert

Kiera’s preschool end-of -year concert

Although the dependency aspect and pressures of fundraising stressed me out, I did enjoy meeting the representatives of the various donor organisations who would visit from time to time to see how their money was being spent. We all shared the same goal – working towards a more just society, and many hours would be spent solving South Africa’s problems together. Donor agencies from all over the world were eager to get a foothold in the country but in 1994, when SA had its first democratic elections, the funds started to dry up. And NGOs started going under one by one. Our work with preschools in rural communities ground to a miserable halt and I was racked with guilt for having let so many people down. A few years later I made one of the more difficult decisions in my life, which was to leave the preschool. I was disillusioned and absolutely worn out (unknown to me at the time, I was severely anaemic). Maybe if I hadn’t been so run down, I would not have left – I still have dreams about the school as unfinished business.

So it was with a great deal of trepidation that I accepted the fundraising portfolio after joining the Curry’s Post Educational Trust last year. I still feel anxious about letting people down, but perhaps it’s time to put the past and my resultant fear of failure behind me.

Earlier this year I submitted a funding proposal to the N3 Toll Concession to establish a Science Centre at the school. Whereas most science and maths outreach programmes focus on high school interventions, we hope that by making a Science Centre available in a primary school, it will facilitate the experiential learning of a variety of math, science and technology subjects from Grade R to Grade 7. And encourage critical thinking, analytical problem solving and curiosity; skills that will serve children well in all spheres of life. I was naturally thrilled when the funds were approved and the Science Centre installed. I have just submitted my second proposal to N3TC for funding for next year and this time we are asking for funds for a Science Centre Support Programme which, if approved, will occupy quite a bit of my time.

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the new science centre

Kiera, in the meantime, is working for a non-profit organisation in Washington DC which runs economic development programmes in Niger and Burkina Faso (she has just recently returned from a 2-week trip to Niger). She’s been able to give me quite a lot of help with my proposals – it’s quite weird getting a donor’s perspective from her. Strange how things turn out!

Discussions held with the N3TC Corporate Social Responsibility rep and preparing the proposals has rekindled my passion for education and community development and I’m getting excited about the work I’m doing. Perhaps its time to try and make a difference again.

For those of you interested in education there was an article in the Sunday Times (8 November 2015) with the heading: “While the rich get education, SA’s poor get just “schooling”. It was written by Nic Spaull who is a contributor to the South African Child Gauge 2015 (Children’s Institute, UCT). It seems that things haven’t changed much since those days when I taught at Mboza Combined Primary!

He writes:

If you can afford to send your child to a former Model C or a private school, there is no question about it, you do. I am willing to bet that there is not a single MP who sends their child to a no-fee school in our country. Not one. It is an unspoken truth that no-fee paying schools are for the poor and “good” schools are for the rich.

To put this into context, no-fee paying schools make up the vast majority of schools in South Africa …. and almost all of them are dysfunctional, because they do not impart the knowledge, skills and values needed to succeed in life.

I completely agree that a system where access to quality schooling is almost exclusively a function of parental wealth (in other words our current system) is unjust and must change. But purely from a numbers perspective, we simply have to find ways of improving the quality of 88% of schools that are free.

After 21 years of democratic rule, most black children still receive an education that condemns them to the underclass of South African society, where poverty and unemployment are the norm. This substandard education does not develop their capabilities or expand their economic opportunities: instead, it denies them dignified employment and undermines their sense of self-worth.

In short, poor school performance in South Africa reinforces social inequality: children inherit the social station of their parents, irrespective of their own motivation or ability.

 

 

 

 

 

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