Letters to the editor: September 18 to 23 2015

Teachers are putting children’s futures last

To my mind the most significant piece of writing in last week’s Mail & Guardian was the article by Professor Peter Vale on the sports pages titled The lesson of 2010 has not been learnt. This contains thoughts that may have very long-term consequences.

There is no way we can avoid acknowledging the fact that South Africa is near the bottom of the lists of educational success in schooling. Vale puts his finger right on the spot.

He attributes lack of progress in this vital part of all children’s lives to the obstacle of the “Leviathan of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu)”, which he claims has long used its power as a trade union to stymie attempts at essential reforms.

In 1980 I taught at a high school in Cape Town where all the teachers, apart from me, were union members and I realised during that time – which included most of the second term when the pupils were protesting against instruction in Afrikaans – the power of union leverage. My granddaughter has recently had her own traumatic experiences at the same school and this confirms my conviction that nothing has changed for the better in the past 34 years.

If ever the enormous disgrace that is the state of education in South Africa is to be dealt with, it will need not only vast financial resources but also mind-changing commitments from teachers in terms of teaching time, as well as their taking on extramural activities – such as sports training, dramatic and musical classes, or library duty – which need to be part and parcel of every full-time teacher’s responsibilities.

Such a change in mind-set would not only improve academic performance but also produce thousands of young sportsmen and -women who would make possible the selection of truly demographically reflective teams.

Education is the key to what our country needs. Is the hosting of any international competition more important? I cannot believe that spending more than R6-billion in Durban on the Commonwealth Games can be worth more than fixing our shocking education system. – Rosemary Sundgren, Somerset West

? Vales’s pertinent criticism of the funds to be used for the Commonwealth Games, which he feels could instead be used to educate our kids, reminded me of a comment made by Jacob Zuma. Remember how, in a live TV debate, he disparagingly referred to the “clever people” who criticised him during the last election?

He knows full well that the continued success of the ANC relies strongly on the masses remaining ignorant of the realities facing the country. Why then would he be inclined to divert those Commonwealth Games funds into education, thereby reducing the level of ignorance?

In closing a question: Why do we still belong to the Commonwealth? I have not seen much wealth, common or otherwise, being derived from this old colonial arrangement. – Chris Newby-Fraser

Cradle and all: Missing a link or just a big hoax?

I am not a palaeoanthropologist, nor an expert caver, but I did have the pleasure of accompanying Professor Philip Tobias on one of his first expeditions to the Kalahari in 1959. He taught me one thing: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”

Reading the article Cradle’s grave: Homo naledi strikes an all-too-human chord in Friday’s Mail & Guardian and the excellent graphic of the cave, it seem incredible that Homo naledi should have even considered crawling with outstretched hands, dragging a corpse behind him through Superman’s Crawl to then climb the Dragon’s Back only to drop the body into the void beyond.

Not only once but several hundred times! All this, mind you, without the aid of lamps or sophisticated climbing techniques available to the research team.

Unless there is a chute from the top, as yet undiscovered, how could they have achieved the impossible? We are told that one of the researchers even had to dislocate his shoulder to get through the narrow passage!

To add to my concern is the fact that Professor Lee Berger seems very reluctant, despite the prolific presence of bones, to have at least one of them submitted to carbon testing. He also appears to be back-pedaling when it comes to dating his find and even whether the remains are fossilised or not! All that doubt after two million years in a cave?

There is no doubt in my mind that Southern Africa is one of the cradles of humankind, but this latest fanfare does indeed seem too good to be true. – Peter Kuhnert, Hout Bay

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