Koketso Moeti
Koketso Moeti

When ‘educational’ programmes do more harm than good

On Human Rights Day my daughter who was at home asked if she could watch cartoons. Despite being very cautious about what I allow her to watch, that day I switched on assuming that the content would not be too bad as it was from SABC education. A programme called Thabang Thabong was playing, it looked harmless enough, but as I listened while cleaning, I found myself getting rather worked up by what I was hearing.

The episode was focused on families, with the roles of various family members shared. The presenter played the ‘mother’ who was ironing for the ‘father’. It went on further depicting the roles in the family with the stereotypical gender roles assigned to the mother, conveying the message that within the family structure a mother’s role is only to cook, clean and ensure that daddy’s clothes are ironed.

This part of the show also featured video clips in which children of all races were sharing the things their fathers do for the family. It further went on to discuss fathers, whose role it was noted by the presenter, is to make families feel ‘safe’ and ‘happy’.

I found this very insulting for the many single mothers, grandparents, foster parents and same sex-couples doing their best to raise safe and happy families. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that children do benefit from having their fathers as a part of their lives- but the presence of fathers in families should not be depicted in a manner that vilifies those without. Particularly in a country where as recently as March 2013, it was found by the South African Institute of Race Relations that “only 33% of children in South Africa live with both their parents. The rest live with single parents, on their own, with relatives, or in foster care.”

On programmes aimed at children, there is currently too much emphasis on what a family looks like, which does nothing but make children feel insecure when their family doesn’t look like the one which is held in high regard.

In my opinion when discussing family, children should not be (or even feel) demonised for what their family looks like – but rather empowered to be able to tell the difference between what is a loving environment and what isn’t. Children should know that no matter what their family looks like, families are supposed to be a loving space. They should also be empowered to know that where domestic violence or any other form of abuse exists, it is not ‘normal’ and that there are places they can turn to for help when this happens. The idea that the nuclear family is the ideal is very unhealthy in a country with such high levels of domestic violence as children are encouraged to accept abuse as ‘normal’, because it happens in what they are taught to believe is a ‘normal’ family structure.

It is unacceptable that a children’s educational programme promotes a culture that holds the patriarchal nuclear family in higher esteem. Not only does it affect children’s self-esteem, but also socialises children into believing that patriarchal domination within a family is acceptable. Something which can potentially can limit their potential as they subscribe to the very limited roles this offers for them – but also teaches them to vilify what does not fit into that ‘normal’.

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    • Mr. Direct

      I have the perfect family – daddy and mummy and 2.4 children.

      I have to confess though, the 0.4 of a child is starting to smell, so I may want to drop to an even 2 children as the little one is spoiling our car trips these days.

      So if this is not the typical family unit statistically, I look forward to the children’s programs that suggest that there is only mummy at home, because daddy is an idiot. How about there is no mummy, because she did not want you. Or why not, we do not know who your daddy is, because we bought his seed from a bank.

      I am sure that our children will grow up far more balanced than if they had to see the evil of the nuclear family. Well spotted……

    • Enough Said

      Good article.

    • Michael Liermann

      Well said. Must say I despair at how invested Africa sometimes seems in patriarchal culture, especially given how much of the burden of keeping families and societies going in the face of economies based on migrant male labour rests on womens’ shoulders.

    • Momma Cyndi

      That is more than a little unfair. A while back I was babysitting my nephew and the program was about different types of family. One kid had two mommies, another just daddy, another a granny, another an aunt ….. etc. It was all about how families were important and they came in different structures but they were all good.

      It is an inane program but my nephew seems to like it and most of the messages seem to be of value. Some are a bit stereotypical but I haven’t felt that any of them are objectionable

    • A Taylor

      They must have dug it out of the archives, from the ’50s when mummy could afford to stay at home and iron and cook and daddy had shirts that needed ironing and mummy had enough energy to cook meals from scratch. It doesn’t reflect even today’s nuclear families.

    • http://When'educational'programmsdomoreharmthangood proactive

      To service fairly and to judge, define, include or exclude the variety of present family unit mutations- probably happening mainly accidental, lesser by design- has become very complex and difficult! It is even more complex to present a program to everyone’s liking, because of the existence of peoples varying life’s philosophies, religions and believes.

      If it is true that the ancient norm of a mother & father as the family nucleus has dropped to 33%- does it not reflect on relationships in SA and its society- there are many reasons- but surely not an ideal situation or everyone’s childhood dream?

      Assuming, national TV programmes are limited to choose some norms- should they than not meet a persons cicumstances, is it not for the parent to explain the different situation its child is in- instead expecting the production of a variation of programmes
      – just in case- not to offend?

      Situations also differ globally- from war torn Africa & Middle East, the different religions & customs, homogeneous societies or not and the various levels of economic development! Our situation is just a specific blib on a journey in human evolution.

      Is it not the present global expansion of economies, the rise of opportunities & the resulting education & independence of people- making a lot possible- but also impossible? Will this change in all directions be positive or harmful for the traditional family unit, its children and future generations- how will they act & perform?

    • Impedimenta

      Agreed. These old programmes need updating. I am assuming it was an old programme?

    • samanyika

      i see. ok, the are suppose to show what kind of family then? with two gay fathers? that will cause an even bigger uproar i guess. maybe with a single mum? i would definately have complained that they are teaching our daughters that single parenthood is the norm. look, its a national programme, you cant make everyone happy. but al least a nuclear family is a place to start. you sond all very bitter… i suppose you are a single parent
      if you are that by choice or by default we dont really care. but at some stage in your life you made a choice that resulted in your situation. which is your business. but trying to shove down your perculiar situation onto society and demand that it be treated as an alternative ‘standard’is ridiculous. we live in a rapidly mutating society because of a lot of reasons, but it doensnt mean our moral values should be discarded in an effort to appear modern, sophisticated and tolerant. single parenthood is a curse, no matter how much you want to bias your look at it. no kid should be llowed to grow up believing that they should aim to be single parents!

      by the way, there is man hating and gender equality. these are two different things, but you seem to relate to the former more than the latter. what gives?

    • Wow

      Sounds like the author watched one episode and had a rant. Too bad she didnt watch an entire series and make her mind up. My mother is a pre-school teacher and she recommends this programme because it addresses many of the issues/concepts that the school does.

      So I guess if Koketso is so alarmed by the show she shoudl start petitioning outside the education department to have the curriculums changed.

    • http://thoughtleader.co.za/koketsomoeti Koketso

      @Mr. Direct, you are missing the point. Your family isn’t ‘perfect’ because both parents are around, it’s only perfect if it’s a loving space, unless of course you’re suggesting that having both parents is more important than a family being a loving space?

      @momma Cyndi, I refer to a specific episode- even pointing out when it played and the contents of the episode.

      @A. Taylor, I agree. As a mother and a family woman, my role is much more than merely cleaning and ironing as for many other women in our society. Even those who are not formally employed do much more than that and it’s very misguided to make young girls believe that is what family life has in store for them…

    • http://thoughtleader.co.za/koketsomoeti Koketso

      @samanyika, Whether or not I’m a single mother is beside the point really. The point is that 67% of children in the country do not stay with both their parents and they shouldn’t be made to feel like there’s anything ‘wrong’ with their family as long as it’s a loving space. Unless of course you are suggesting that single parents, grandparents, foster parents and same-sex parents are incapable of providing a loving space?

    • http://thoughtleader.co.za/koketsomoeti Koketso

      @Wow, I specifically mention the one episode and no, I don’t have to watch the entire series to make up my mind. I’ve been involved in a drop-in centre for children with HIV+ parents, where one such episode could have children feeling like there’s something wrong with their families. The questions they ask and the conclusions they come to were downright heartbreaking, especially because a number of them had loving families who just happened not to look the way ‘proper’ families look. I also happen to be part of an early centre and a feeding programme which feeds over 500 children. Almost none of them have a nuclear family, but they do have families trying their best in some of the worst circumstances. If making all these children feel insecure about their families makes SA somehow feel good, then we are truly a very disturbed nation and no, I don’t need to be standing outside any department to know this.

    • http://thoughtleader.co.za/koketsomoeti Koketso

      @Michael Liermann, that’s very true. In my own community, those who are employed are mostly farmworkers, who travel the country depending on the season. This has left many families without fathers, but through this they are able to maintain their families. However, the burden of looking after a family then rests entirely on women’s shoulders- something which such depictions of the nuclear family being the ‘right kind’ of family ignores. Our economy and society doesn’t make a nuclear family practical for many people, so why punish children for this?

    • Momma Cyndi


      Yes, you did only mention one episode. That may not be fair?
      One could argue that one parent families don’t teach kids what the traditional role of two parent families are. Not a one of the single parents don’t hope their grandchild has a two parent family. Not a single South African will argue that what they showed is what is expected.

      Children don’t live in a vacuum. Your job is not to have a tv as an electronic babysitter, it is to use the programs to interact with your children. In all my life, I have never come across a program that didn’t need to be put into context. From the Roadrunner’s sad habit of using Acme anvils to flatten his enemy to the Flintstones’ use of animals as hedge clippers …. it all needed to be explained within the relation to family standards. One day your baby will be watching MTV (your house or somewhere else) and the lesson isn’t to “not watch” but that it isn’t socially acceptable within your family morals to act like that.

    • http://thoughtleader.co.za/koketsomoeti Koketso

      @Momma Cyndi: Personally, I really don’t see how teaching kids any traditional empowers them. What is of greater importance is a child’s ability to tell the difference between what is a loving space and what isn’t.

      Your comment makes a lot of assumptions, that parents who leave tvs as babysitters are irresponsible and that everyone has time to put things into context. I have no illusions about South Africa and know that my own experience as a parent differs from that of many others. Some women leave their kids watching tv, whilst they go look for water (my own community evidences this) and others for temporary seasonal farmwork amongst many other things. So, whilst children may not live in vacuums there are real economic and social burdens that don’t allow all parents to sit around all day giving their kids context.

      The problem with SA is that we tend to use our own experiences as some kind of a benchmark of what’s acceptable and what’s not, without thought for the conditions of a majority of South Africans. Nevertheless, I will not move from my statement that anyone benefits from making a majority of South African kids feel insecure about their families nor does it empower them in any way…

    • Momma Cyndi


      You are saying that children in traditional families are less than your child and they don’t deserve validation and are not in a loving space?

      Economics is always an issue and every economic bracket has used the TV as a babysitter at some stage. The conversation afterwards is key. My kids would sit on the counter whilst I cooked and tell me what they had seen/done that day. As a working mom, the two periods in the day that I treasured was cooking and bathing as those were my times to connect with my children.

      Barbie and Little Mermaid are not good role models for marriage. Marriage is difficult. It is constant work. The roles are negotiated but they are roles. Traditional roles are not my cup of tea but they are a starting point for the negotiations.

    • koketso

      I fully understand what koketso is saying,you need to read her whole argument and make sure that u understand her correctly,because you guys are not for what’s she is stating but for and I feel you not getting her point !