The article you are about to read is part of a weekly series of comment pieces written by South African pupils about the problems they encounter in their schools. The series offers pupils a chance to be part of the debate about South Africa’s education system.
This piece is part of a three-part series of summaries of discussions Gauteng pupils had about race-related issues at their schools. At the time of writing, the pupils were participants in a writing workshop hosted by Media Monitoring Africa.
Musa* is 17 and attends a school in the inner city of Johannesburg. He wants to become a cardiologist, but the poor resources at his school might stop him from getting the marks he needs to be able to study medicine at university. Caitlin* (17) hopes to study journalism next year and feels her school, which is in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, has provided her with the resources she needs to achieve her dream. Lebo*(16) attends the same school as Caitlin and would like to be an accountant.
Caitlin: So what is your school like?
Musa: If someone who’s not used to it goes there, they would think it is a dump because it’s in the inner city and people hate that part of Johannesburg and they think it’s dangerous. I’m used to it but I’m not okay with it. I don’t like the disrespect for teachers and the pupils’ bad behaviour.
Lebo: It’s kind of shocking. I can’t imagine that.
Caitlin: Pupils see our teachers as gods. It would be a big thing if a pupil shouted at a teacher.
Musa: That’s new to me. All the pupils at the schools see their teachers as being on the same level as them. It’s weird to hear how you are scared of your teachers.
Lebo: But we are proud of our school because of its academic achievements and the feeling like there is a sisterhood there. The girls at my school have a ride or die attitude for each other.
Musa: How’s the “weather” by your side?
Caitlin: The area is good but people talk a lot. If a girl from our school does something wrong outside the school, it is immediately reported to the school principal.
Lebo: If something happens to a girl from our school at 6am, by 8am the principal will know about it.
Caitlin: Everyone is for everyone in this area. There is no bunking in the school because someone from the outside will see you.
Musa: That’s quite amazing. My area is a bit harsh and the people there don’t care about the schoolkids. They just know that it’s your future – not theirs. They don’t care much about you at all.
Caitlin: Do you think that there are enough resources at your school?
Musa: Not at all. We used to have computers but they were stolen and the library books are not up to date.
Caitlin: Our school has three computer rooms and we are only allowed to use two of them after school. The one we are not allowed to use is the biggest one, so I think it would be a good idea if we could allow poor schools to use the big computer room.
Musa: It would be good for my school because some students hardly learn from books. They learn more from the internet.
Caitlin: How is your uniform treated, do you treat it with pride?
Musa: I treat my uniform with pride but some students wear skinny pants and girls make their tunics shorter. People use their uniform as a way to say they are unique.
Lebo: Our uniform is well-respected because there are strict rules, like we are only allowed to wear tracksuits at a certain temperature and our tunics are supposed to be four fingers above our knee. Some people think it’s unnecessary but I think uniform reflects behaviour.
Musa: So what is the pupils’ behaviour like?
Caitlin: Behaviour at our school is generally very strict. There are certain ways you have to act, how you speak, how you carry yourself. There is no stepping out of line. It’s a really annoying thing because as an individual you feel restricted. The expectations are so high so no one steps out of line.
Musa: Inside the school it’s much better. It’s still corrupt but the outside, wow! It’s worse. The fact that the kids smoke drugs, drink alcohol and there is gangsterism. Students grew up in a rough area and they adopted the system of that area and so they are not used to going along with rules. There is no discipline in my school.
Caitlin: So why do you think we have these differences in our schools?
Lebo: I think we don’t have many differences in our curriculum, it’s just the way it’s taught. There are big differences in resources and pupils’ behaviour.
Musa: I think our schools are different because of the area and people grew up in a harsh area and so they are not used to going along with the rules.
Lebo: How do you think the apartheid regime influenced your school’s current situation?
Musa: Mostly white people attended my school during apartheid but when it ended white people moved out because more black people moved into the area.
Caitlin: During apartheid our school was a white school and so was the area and its wealth and power stayed here. So today our school is still wealthy and well-equipped.
Lebo: Does your School Governing Body (SGB) cater to your needs?
Musa: I don’t think it meets our needs. They don’t ask us what we want, they decide by themselves and the school leaders.
Lebo: Oh my gosh! Our school’s SGB is totally different. We have many members and they’re constantly asking for our opinion.
Lebo: What can outsiders do to improve the situation in schools?
Musa: That’s a good question. They could help by giving food to schools because some black schools out there have children who starve and white people should let go of their prejudices. That could be an advantage for everyone. I also think that the government should visit schools and change their policies, like if an Afrikaans school doesn’t want to enrol black children then the government must go there and change their policies.
Caitlin: Those are some great points and would make a huge difference in our schools.
*Pupils were kept anonymous to protect them from possible negative ramifications.