By Lehlohonolo Israel Mofokeng
There is no doubt there is a hive of township schools that continue to show signs of holistic excellence. By holistic excellence, I mean developing conscious learners who are not detached from the realities of their lives — learners who will engage with hegemonic structures, learners who will understand that their privilege is another person’s privilege.
I am not for schools that are obsessed with producing “straight A learners” who cannot reason beyond their textbooks’ pages. These are the learners who, when asked who was Mangaliso Sobukwe, King Moshoeshoe or Kwame Nkrumah uncontrollably bite their tongues as though they had swallowed a mosquito that was on verge of giving birth.
We township teachers are known, whether this is true or not, to fail more than our learners. We are known for our inertia when it comes to doing our work. But we should change this bitter discourse and influence everyone to want to become teachers. Every learner in our classroom should long for tomorrow’s class because they are going to learn what they have not known before. Learners should want to become teachers because those they knew were equally intelligent, ambitious, forward thinking, highly knowledgeable and motivated. Our township learners should not only discover of the existence of, say, International Financial Reporting Standards and their relevance to the world only when they go to institutions of higher learning. Our township learners should not discover the steps to becoming an actuary only when they attend career exhibitions. We, the teachers, should be their resource packs.
My ideal, excellent township school is one where:
– A talent is not looked down upon but embraced and nurtured. It is one where a learner who can be a better Douglas Kruger, Thabo Kofa, Lira, Hashim Amla, Trevor Noah, Thulani Serero, Maria Ramos, John Kani, KPD Maphalla, Surgeon Xolo, Vusi Thembekwayo, Makhaya Ntini or Eusebius McKaiser.
– A learner is exposed to such opportunities and mentored accordingly.
– A township learner can confidently speak in public and state her or his opinion eloquently and unambiguously.
– Teachers are motivated by altruism and the opportunity to develop the next great leaders of our beautiful South Africa.
– We continually seek new and interesting ways of delivering the subject content in a challenging yet exciting manner.
– Teachers do not reproduce question papers but demand that their learners become diligent and creative.
– Content dumping only exists in museums. It is one where teachers contribute (become co-authors) to textbooks that are subscribed to their schools.
– Learners know that each year-end function / prize-giving ceremony features a leading public figure, grannies with wisdom, or young people who do remarkable things in their fields.
– Our learners do not think of universities as only places for the elites.
– Learner curiosity is embraced.
– Ideas that change lives are bred.
– Current issues such as the Rhodes Must Fall movement are robustly discussed, not only in history classes, but during breaks, economics classes and in staff rooms.
Of course, such schools exist but we can do better. What can be done to achieve this? These are my solutions:
– Each township school should have at least 10 new young brilliant teachers. These are teachers who will still be motivated and excited to bring a positive change into the system.
– The basic education department should pay teachers competitive salaries.
– The basic education department should also limit the administration burden of teachers.
-There should be a reasonable learner-teacher ratio in classrooms, not the current state where classrooms sometimes look like stadiums.
– Principals should embrace young teachers who already have relevant master’s degrees.
– Teachers and their trade unions should see class visits as an opportunity for professional growth, not professional transgression.
– Teachers should not limit learning only to classrooms.
My dear township school teachers, let us be and let our learners be. Let us show them what holistic excellence means! Black learners must believe that they too can be great, holistically, and not only when they go to former model C schools.
Lehlohonolo Israel Mofokeng is an aspiring world-class township schools commerce teacher. He is currently reading for his master of education degree at the University of the Witwatersrand as a Mandela Rhodes Scholar.