By Lehlohonolo Mofokeng
Although our township schools prove year in year out that they are capable of producing world movers and sharers, much of their potential is untapped because of factors that only JK Rowling could describe in depth. But what do privileged schools do to level the educational playing field that is often characterised by endemic inequality? What does the privileged learner from a former model C school say when she/he sees their township learner fail as easy a subject as maths just because: a) They have to share a book b) Weeks pass by without any tuition because there is no teacher? Isn’t ubuntu about looking out for each other and understanding that my privilege is yours as well? Isn’t being an African about sharing each other’s pain and dismay? Here is my case: the playing field in education can be levelled if schools shared their educational resources.
Time to share what we have
This collaborative partnership is nothing but a demonstration of shared pain and one that calls for a spirit of altruism among schools that are privileged. It is a well-known factor that South Africa in effect has two education systems whose educational outcomes, instigated by an uneven playing field, are at odds with each other. We have on the one hand schools that can compete with the best education systems in the world. On the other, we have those whose academic performance I fail to describe here because of shame. The answer to this is for the privileged schools to come on board and help share their classroom practices that enhance learner understanding and academic achievement and recent subject-specific teaching methodologies that stimulate learning. Principals could share with their counterparts successful leadership practices that have worked for them. Of course, there should be a consideration of the context here because what might work in one school might not work in another.
As Ben Levin and Michael Fullan state in their insightful paper “Learning about System Renewal“, “sustainable improvement requires ‘lateral capacity building’ in which schools and districts learn from each other”. There is no doubt that the more collegial and collective our schools become, the privileged and disenfranchised, those who operate on the periphery will start to care about their own underachievement and the privileged will become “as concerned about the success of other schools in their network as their own school”.
Reciprocal professional relationships
Many of our township schools cannot achieve anything great if there is no willingness on their side to be world class. Our government has failed, to a significant extent, to ensure quality education. Teachers and school leaders/management of these failed schools will have to step up and seek help somewhere else. If the learners from the privileged education system extend a helping hand with homework, extra lessons there should be an equal determination from the township learners too.
It’s odd, isn’t it? Two education systems in one country. But there’s hope, I can feel it in my bones. We will come right if we are willing to share. Much can be done if the politicians stop lowering the education standards in an effort to increase the dependency syndrome that will extend their stay in power.
Lehlohonolo Mofokeng is an aspiring world class township school commerce teacher. He is currently busy with his master’s degree in education at Wits and is a Mandela Rhodes Scholar.