The Role of Education in South Africa

Wednesday, January 23, 2008, 12:15 AM
Posted by Lauren Doxsey

Over the past couple of weeks, we have all had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit and observe some of the most prominent cities in South Africa. As our journey is sadly coming to an end, I can most definitely say that I will be arriving back in the states with numerous rewarding experiences. One of these moments that will always stand out in my mind through the course of this trip is the privilege that I had to meet and interact with children enrolled in the South African educational system.
Yesterday afternoon we visited the Eukhannyisweni primary school in the township of Alexandra and played with the children during their recess. I particularly found the number of children who attended what appeared to be a fairly small-sized school alarming. According to the principal at Eukhannyisweni, approximately 1,090 kids are enrolled in their schooling program with only 26 teachers to go around. This means that the classrooms in this primary school are significantly overcrowded, with up to 60 students per class in extreme cases. I imagine that this must make it difficult for the youngsters to focus while class is in session and also decreasing the amount of one-on-one student/teacher attention. I find this hard to relate to.. when I was in elementary school the average class size was around 25-30 students, which is less than half the size of a class at Eukhannyisweni. The problem of overcrowded classrooms in the South African education system appears to be a large one and one that has been around for a while. Education in South Africa is still not equal in all parts of the country and I find this to be significantly disappointing. Not all classrooms are mixed between the races and those that are compromised of all black children are absurdly overcrowded. Due to such circumstances, the educational system is failing students and these students become more susceptible to committing juvenile crimes. In connection, they are not learning and grasping onto the skills that they can use to help them be productive and keep them out of crime. Because of this, juvenile detention centers are being erected around schools with black children who are failing out and not succeeding.

However, there is increasing hope and effort to help better the educational system in South Africa. As the principle of Eukhannyisweni stated, there are several attending students who have a plethora of problems- ranging from emotional to behavioral, whom the teachers have to deal with on a daily basis. The teachers do their best to help these children cope with their problems so they can excel in a better learning environment. We, as a class, also meet with 69 previously selected students to interview and learn more about. Even with the overcrowded classrooms and lack of sufficient learning materials, I was amazed at some of the students’ yearning to succeed in the future. For example, when I interviewed Sharon, an 11-year-old girl whose first language is Zulu, I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She did not hesitate to respond and enthusiastically said “a lawyer.” I later learned that Sharon’s uncle is a lawyer who has proven to be successful and has since moved out of the Alexandra township. Sharon’s determination to obtain a bright future was evident through her smile and eagerness to talk about her enjoyment of school with me. Young girls such as Sharon who exhibit such motivation to escape the poverty cycle gives me hope that such boundaries can be overcome by simply receiving an education.

The importance of education has been a common thread throughout this course, as it is evident in the books that were required reading. Mark Mathabane’s book Kaffir Boy and Charlayne Hunter-Gault’s book In My Place both describe the power of education- as well as the obstacles that the characters were forced to overcome in order to obtain an education. Both Mathabane and Hunter-Gault were able to overcome stereotypes and receive college degrees. I remember seeing a statement quoting “education is the key to life” written on a mural in the township of Langa in Cape Town and after participating in this course, I definitely believe that such a powerful statement can make an impact on a person’s life for the better.

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