15 July 2016
The twenty-first century is an age like no other. Globalisation and growing technologies are producing an interconnectedness that the world has never seen before. In some ways, this interconnectedness highlights similarities among humans throughout the globe. We all strive for stability and cherish the safety of our families. However, globalisation has allowed for rapid collection of data, bringing some disturbing trends to light. Throughout the world there is one trend that is affecting every state and every society: the gap between the rich and poor is widening. This trend can be observed in the job sector, the housing options, the tax system, but most importantly it is apparent in the education sector. Education is the tool with which the rich have suppressed the poor throughout history. Without education, social mobility is impossible; those in poverty will be stuck in poverty.
In South Africa, the quality of the schools for the rich and of the schools for the poor are disturbingly disparate. In a world in which education is the most valuable thing a person can acquire, an inadequate education system can put an entire country at a disadvantage. But how do we approach the reformation of a system that is so vast? Reform must start at the most basic levels: the early years of a child’s life, which are the most vital in terms of shaping them for the future. But when money determines the quality and quantity of a child’s education, how can we ever hope to narrow the wealth gap?
Leanne Jansen, a journalist writing for The Mercury, argues that “the potential of this early learning investment by the government – to narrow the gap between impoverished and affluent children – can be realised only if pre-Grade R education is of high quality.” Luckily, this is something that the South African government has taken to heart by setting goals of placing every child in two years of pre-school education. However, the implementation of this plan is easier said than done. Oftentimes, the number of students placed in school is prioritised over the quality of education. For example, analysts may record the number of children in school in a poverty-stricken area and see that it is above 90%. On paper, this observation looks promising. However, many poorer schools are understaffed, lack resources, and face challenges that make it impossible to provide a solid education.
The prevalence of illiteracy in South Africa makes it hard to believe that education receives the largest amount of funding compared to any other sector within the government. If this is the case, why do half of the children who start school drop out by grade 12? Statistics report that “over 98 per cent of South African children attend school,” so clearly access to schools is not the main issue.
As an organisation that aids schools and Early Childhood Development Centres, Breadline Africa has been exposed to many of the underlying problems; most point back to lack of resources, the inability of parents to pay school fees, and insufficient teacher training. Even in schools that are given aid and faculty, the quality of the timetables and testing systems do not always ensure literacy by a certain age. This is especially relevant in schools that lack libraries. When children do not have a wide variety of books to read, they are forced to read the same text over and over. As a result, the learners have memorised the text by the time their exams are given and their literacy is not sufficient for their age level. When Breadline Africa donates a library container, we are working diligently to combat this pervasive problem. We provide each container with a starting stock of 800 books for various reading levels. We sit down with the librarian and try to develop a strategy for teaching children to use their imaginations and to discover the fun in reading. Learners deserve to be challenged in their school environment but this is simply impossible to do when resources are scarce.
Placing children in schools is not the only step in creating a literate population. When children are viewed as a number in a system, there is no chance of giving them a chance to reach their full potential. In order to eliminate poverty and move towards equality, quality education must be accessible to those with money and those without.
Written by: Christine Oswald
Van Der Merwe, Marelise. “Grade RR: Priority or pie in the sky?” Daily Maverick. Iab.southafrica. 13 Jan 2016. Web. 11 July 2016.
Modisaotsile, Brenda Matshidiso. “The Failing Standard of Basic Education in South Africa.” Policy Brief No 72. Africa Institute of South Africa. March 2012. Web. 13 July 2013.