Last week I was riding my bike past the elementary school that my sisters attended. A little munchkin came out the front door wearing a backpack bigger than him. The guy picking him up asked earnestly, “So how was it? Did you like it?” It was obviously the kid’s first day; he seemed more interested in sliding down the banister of the front steps. Freedom!
I thought how that kid is embarking on a long educational adventure, and how the school surely has a fully-stocked library and computers in every room and well-trained teachers. And he’s attending school in a high-performing state. A recent New York Times article discussed the stringent public school academic standards in Massachusetts, noting that the students rank second in the world in science. That little munchkin probably has a good future.
And then I thought about the K-12 farm school where Mtuseni’s little brother and sister go. It’s a public school with no library. No computers. No heat. Mtuseni told me on his visit here that the teachers regularly use corporal punishment — even in grade 12 sometimes he got a “switch across the bum.” Girls only get a ruler across the knuckles.
If anyone needs to get whacked, it’s the South African politicians and administrators who allow the pitiful state of the country’s public education to continue.
I read a recent blog post by a guy in South Africa, who reprinted an open letter to the country’s education system. It’s sad to read — and even sadder because it accurately reflects the situation that Mtuseni and his siblings and peers face. Despite having an inquisitive and thoughtful mind, Mtuseni entered Boston Media House poorly prepared for college. And in some ways we are still playing catch-up to get him ready for life after graduation. And I have a feeling that little Bongeka and Musa are in worse shape than we was in terms of academics…
The opening to Khaya’s education post is below.
Dear South African education
August 21, 2013 (originally appeared on the Cape Times 03-26-2012)
I am an average South African student, meaning that last year I was in matric and am now in a prestigious university. I studied and worked hard in order to leave my school in the rural areas in the Eastern Cape so that I can study in a university, so that I can get a good education because I’d like a great job, which will be a first for my village.
Let me give you an idea of the school I come from. Some of the classes have broken windows and that means that we either cover the broken windows with cardboard or hardboards. But that does not prevent the cold from coming in during winter, or the wind from blowing papers all over the classroom. When it rains, the classes get wet.
Some new buildings have been added to the school but it’s the administration building and not much new with the classrooms themselves. Sometimes the teachers don’t come in class to teach and there is very little discipline in the school. My school has no library. The first time I saw a library was when I came to university. I’d seen pictures of libraries in magazines and when watching tv from one of the neighbour’s houses.
One comment on the post broke my heart; I hope it’s not accurate…