Inside our chaotic schools

An on-the-spot investigation into black schools has revealed a picture of complete chaos in which virtually no education is taking place- and nobody seems to care. Weekly Mail reporter Thandeka Gqubule spent two days as a pupil in Soweto this week, when students were writing Department of Education and Training exams. 

She found: 

  • Exam papers often did not arrive, and when they did many had missing pages, were illegible or riddled with errors; 
  • Neither students nor teachers knew the exam time-table and the tests were postponed at random, regardless of the fact that pupils would be able to get the papers from friends at other schools. Sometimes they did not even know in what language the exam would be written; 
  • Teachers, with up to 42 classes a week in four different subjects and 50 people per class, were unable to prepare for any of their classes;  
  • Conditions in schools were worse than ever, with pupils sharing desks and classrooms without lighting;  
  • Nobody seemed to care. Pupils and teachers said they were powerless to deal with ”DET inefficiency”. It was evident that schools may be quiet and attracting little attention, but there is a deep malaise and plenty of evidence that gives the lie to DET claims that the education situation is improving.  

This has created a situation where indifference runs deep and pupils say it makes no difference whether or not they write the exams, or even come to school. It was also apparent that security considerations are taking priority over education. Security policemen visit the school routinely, while DET officials are hardly ever seen. This was confirmed by a DET representative yesterday. Solomon Moshokwa, DET regional public relations officer, said the securocrat controlled Joint Management Centres were “very involved in the schools. ”They are involved in the decision-making. They see to it that schools run smoothly – in the way they want them to run.” 

He said this was an indication the education department was concerned with the democratisation of the schools and the involvement of the community. Moshokwa also said that as far as he knew, exams were going ahead smoothly in most schools. He did not know of any schools in which there were not enough exam papers and was also unaware of any errors in papers given out to students. Asked about the shortage of desks, he said South Africa was a developing country with a phenomenal growth rate. He said he was aware of problems in the schools, but had not heard exactly what these were. 

He was still waiting for the results of a DET investigation into the Soweto school situation. This investigation comes in a crucial week for black education – when there are signs of crises in Soweto, Cape Town and a number of smaller cities and towns. In Soweto, students and teachers in some schools have united against the DET and the police. However, police have repeatedly broken up meetings planned by the Progressive Teachers Committee to address the crisis. Students and teachers had reached various agreements over exams and the progressive teachers union called for the postponement of exams till next term. 

In some schools teachers have set their own papers, rather than using the DET common exams, while at others teachers have made an undertaking: to look at the exam paper before students sit for it and if it is beyond what students can do, to set them a paper in the same subject. Two meetings due to be held by the organisation at Funda Centre recently were disrupted by police. Another to be held at Regina Mundi was called off by teachers after police visited the church and questioned the resident priest about the organisers of the meeting. 

Moshokwa said yesterday he was surprised teachers did not consider themselves part of the DET. He added the DET did not differentiate between officials and the teaching corps. “We are all one company,” he said. He said there was good communication between DET employees and its top officials. Moshokwa assured the Weekly Mail that all student and teacher grie­vances were discussed and addressed first by teachers and principals, then at circuit level, and finally at the level of the directorate. But he refused to say whether the problem of the re-acceptance of ex­-detainees – a key area of dispute – had been discussed or addressed. 

  • A class boycott at Kelang Secondary School at Mangaung in Bloemfontein enters its tenth day today. The boycott started on May 24 after a maths and business economics teacher, Norman Choane, was detained by security police.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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Thandeka Gqubule
Guest Author
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