Birth decides their futures

This month, 60 years ago, the 1953 Bantu Education Act was promulgated.

Before then, all children in South Africa, of all races, were taught the same curriculum. The Verwoerdian plan was that by producing “Bantu pupils” trained according to a European model, a vain hope would be created “among Natives” that they could occupy posts within the European community.

In reality the curriculum catered for posts required for the serving of the “Bantu community”. The national government took control of all provincial education departments.

Primary schools stopped teaching black children in English. They were taught in their mother tongue, putting them at an enormous disadvantage at a later stage when they had to learn in English.

Black pupils were only allowed to start school at the age of 7; white children started two years earlier. Gardening was part of the Bantu Education curriculum. White children were exposed to art and science. The curricula for individual subjects were very different.

History and geography provided Bantu Education pupils with localised knowledge only. Yet, at the close of their school careers, pupils of the Bantu Education system were forced to write exactly the same examinations as their counterparts in other schools.

The products of Bantu Education, if they were able to cope with the challenges, were two years older than their counterparts when they matriculated, had had little exposure to English and had been exposed to a very limited knowledge of the world.

Their opportunities were severely limited. It is this outcome that we cannot allow to haunt us. We cannot allow the opportunities available to our nation’s young people to be limited by the quality of the education they receive.

And particularly, we cannot allow the quality of the education they receive to be determined by the circumstances of their birth. There is no denying great strides have been made in our education system.

But the achievements of learners are still powerfully (and sadly) linked to the circumstances of their birth. Children born to parents who are able to afford the fees for well-resourced schools are likely to do far better than children born into poverty. Children born in rural areas are likely to be taught by ill-qualified teachers and to attend ill-resourced schools.

Every child deserves to attend a school that provides committed and capable teachers as role models, that instils a robust work ethic, a need for curiosity, strong values and self-esteem, in addition to providing an education of such academic rigour that the child is ready to become a globally competitive young citizen.

But this is not the case. By far the majority of our learners are in no-fee, highly-unionised and under-resourced school environments. Bantu Education was meant to teach black learners how to be servants and manual labourers. The argument that the system was better than the system we have now is nonsensical.

There was little or no potential for excellence within Bantu Education. There is potential for excellence now. We owe it to our rainbow children to allow them to achieve the excellence to which they are entitled.

DA MP Annette Lovemore is shadow minister of Basic Education

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