The genius of Apartheid is in our education

In my childhood and to a certain extent up until a few years back my opinion of black and white educators was at very contrasting ends. I thought ‘my’ white teachers were too emotional over their work and overly dedicated to their students, whether this was learners in pre-school or matriculants, their approach was the same.

My opinion of them was that they are excellent at what they do which of course is the case and my mother who also is a teacher I must add must have thought the same because she sent me to the so-called former ‘Model C’ schools so I could get a better level of education that I would otherwise have not been able to receive at my local rural school in Mqanduli, Eastern Cape.

My thoughts on their black counterparts were the total opposite. I thought they were lazy, ineffective and completely lacking in dedication to their profession. I blamed the appalling state of township and rural schools on them and their below par teaching methods.

The matric pass rate and level of pupils dropping out in these schools also seemed to concur with my opinion. It seemed to me like they were only concerned about the pay cheque at the end of the month instead of their students and the environment in the classes which they were responsible for. 

What happens between the four walls of the classroom usually determines the outcome at the end of the year but judging by the statistics and the few and far success of learners in our township and rural schools (and yes there are success stories but the number of these cases can be likened to a drop in the ocean when compared to the norm), nothing was and is happening.

I levelled the same criticism at my mother who I have mentioned is also a teacher, I found it completely unacceptable that at times she would ask me to mark test papers of her students but what I found even more shocking was the poor standard of work that was present in those test papers.

The white teachers seemed to go out of their way to help their pupils and even went the extra mile in making sure you understood exactly what it is that was being taught. They said it was what they loved doing, that teaching was their passion, their way of changing the world and some even went as far as describing it as a calling. That is where upon closer inspection I found lay the problem that was responsible for the great divide between the black and white schools, suburban, rural and township education.

For my mother and most black teachers on the other hand this wasn’t the case, for them teaching was a burden, a way of surviving, from pay cheque to pay cheque they carry on doing a ‘job’ they loathe. They teach kids they are frustrated with which in turn translates into those kids being frustrated by their teachers, eventually leading to a very unhealthy teacher-pupil relationship.

You see my mother did not want to be a teacher; she only went into teaching because her parents could not afford university tuition. Teaching was the only field her bursary would pay for and before she knew it, 30 years if not more had passed and she is still a teacher. For her and most black teachers this is not their passion, this is not how they imagined they would change the world and it is very far from being what they would describe as their calling.

Instead this is a means to survival that enables her to take her kids to better schools where they can be taught by educators with the required passion to teach. Unfortunately for the children she teaches, they are casualties of a war on racial discrimination that ‘supposedly’ ended long before they even set foot in a classroom.

 No matter how many times the government changes the curriculum; the end result will not change. The same de-motivated and disillusioned teachers in township and rural schools will still be responsible for implementing it. The same millions of black school children will continue getting below par levels of teaching which ends up failing them.

With the previous regimes poor training of black teachers as the beginning point of the circle of ensuring the black man was disadvantaged from the time he first walks into a classroom to when he attempts to further his education and acquire skills in tertiary. It is therefore not surprising that we are faced with this problem of an education system that fails its teachers who in turn fail their learners. Therein then lays the genius of the Apartheid policy.

Its legacy of trapping the black child’s mind inside a stagnant and lethargic classroom environment that does nothing for the pupils capability to progress in this world we live in is why we shall still suffer its destructive effects long after we have declared ourselves victorious over it.