Throughout our time in South Africa and time spent in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, we have had the opportunity to go to and spend time in communities of all types. From Langa and Khayelitscha near to Cape Town to Soweto and Alexandra which we have visited in the past days, we have seen people living in communities with a myriad of different types of housing ranging from people who are living in shantytowns in informal structures, to people who are living in the more affluent and glamorous homes that are often merely across the street from one another. Since my first experience in a township, I have been fascinated by the differences in housing that I have seen and the impacts these types of homes have on their residents. As a future educator, many of my thoughts and reflections revolve around education, schooling, and students. In this case, as our bus drives by miles upon miles of informal structures, my thoughts immediately go to the students who live and work in these structures they call home.
According to Richard Cockett’s article titled, “Chasing the Rainbow,” the author discusses the significance of poverty in South African communities, particularly in impoverished townships. He states that if students are able to go through school, pass their matriculation (“matric”) exam, and graduate, “they will have achieved something remarkable: it will be the first time that anyone in their families will have risen out of the degradation and imposed by apartheid.” The impacts that apartheid government has had on South African communities continue to be visible and have major effects on the black population, particularly in the field of education. Many students in township schools are living in informal structures or one room homes that often house many more people than can fit comfortably.
Today, for example, we went to Ekukhanyisweni Primary School (EPS) where we were able to work with the principal and staff to help and be useful in any possible way. The principal, Helen told us that the school accommodates upwards of 1,070 students, most of whom reside in informal structures within the township. As we spent more time in the school, it became more obvious to us that it was a school that was in need of additional resources. In regards to staff, only 28 teachers work in a school of over 1,000 students, financially, students struggle to buy their own school uniforms, or schoolbooks and materials to be able to register for school. Within the school, one of the areas in which we worked was the library where the shelves were scarcely occupied with books. While at EPS today and tomorrow, we are helping to unpack books that have been donated to the school to provide a broader range of books for the library, as well as painting the outside of the school. Ekukhanyisweni has many needs and often the needs of the students, both socially and financially, impact the overall school and classroom environment.
Despite socioeconomic statuses or backgrounds of students and their families, many are realizing the importance of education and the “ladder out of poverty” that it provides. Students who live in informal structures or one room homes often struggle with trying to find a place of their own in their homes or a quiet space to study or do homework. However, as we learned in Langa, some students retreat to the library for some peace and quiet and time to be able to work on schoolwork. But for other students, going to a public library is not an option. However, students with determination and resolve work towards academic progress despite their housing situations. Often students, if they are living with their parents, are often in single parent or inconsistent family situations. There can also be a lack of consistency in friend groups and social influences. Students, without positive influences in their lives or friendships with people who are not committed to academics can also be detrimental to the students academic success.
Students attending schools in townships face many more obstacles and challenges than many students in other schools in South Africa and around the world. Children living in informal structures or shacks are automatically put at a disadvantage in many ways, and often the odds just continue to stack up against them. Despite the many obstacles the face, students do find a way to accomplish their goals to pass their matric examinations and graduate, going on to go to university or obtain gainful employment. Academic success can be challenging, particularly for students living in townships or shantytowns, but can it feasibly be achieved for the students at EPS or from Khayelitscha, Langa, and Soweto? I would like to think they can with the right determination and ambition.
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