Education has taken centre stage recently. Rightfully so, it’s a powerful tool in breaking not only the cycle of poverty but many other negative cycles. There’s no doubt there’s a huge crisis.
Many scream “undelivered textbooks”, “striking teachers” and “political interference” as the crux but it’s much deeper than that. There’s very little said about the content and quality of the curriculum at both basic and tertiary education. Like the media, education can influence the way people think. So it’s essential we ask what kind of citizens we want to develop when coming up with plans to fix the system.
Another often unspoken contributing factor is that education has become devalued. For many students school is about “finishing so I can get a job with a good salary”. This attitude is reinforced regularly. I have often heard parents coax their children to school by saying “if you don’t finish school, you’ll never get a job” and also “if you don’t finish school you’ll end up being so and so’s tea girl or gardener”. As well-intentioned as this may be, it creates students who don’t value and appreciate learning but rather see it as a one-way ticket to riches. Beyond that, it kills curiosity. Students need to apply their minds and go beyond what they’re taught. The message they get is what they learn is enough to “secure them a better future” so why go beyond that. What we’re then left with is unfulfilled potential. We create citizens only able to repeat what they’re told rather than apply their minds and learning in a way that could benefit the nation.
Our teachers are often criticised. If we intend to solve this problem we need to understand that they are increasingly dealing with situations they’re not trained to handle. Pupils attempt abortions on school premises. Some go into labour while in class. Grieving learners and even abused ones are but a few examples of what some teachers regularly have to deal with. Teacher training needs to evolve somewhat to ensure they are equipped with at least the most basic skills required to handle such incidents. Confident, respected and empowered teachers are essential to overcoming this crisis.
The education system, like all other systems, cannot be fixed by a single individual or body. It needs all of us to actively participate. It needs communities who know the social ills prevalent to offer teachers the support they need. Even something as seemingly small as making the teacher aware that a pupil is having certain difficulties at home may make a difference. We need people to go to the schools in their areas at the beginning of the school year and make sure the textbooks arrive timeously. Fixing our education system also entails that teachers, lecturers and parents not produce professional consumers but citizens that seek to meaningfully apply their learning and knowledge.
So apart from the work done to fix school infrastructure and ensure textbooks arrive on time, we all have something to contribute. Let’s put some meaning into all those tweets, posts and endless complaints by taking action to solve it.