It’s no wonder that of the schools that had zero percent pass rates in 2010, a third came from the Eastern Cape. It’s no wonder that township high schools in Cape Town and Johannesburg are bursting at the seams every January as scores of learners from the rural Eastern Cape descend on them desperately looking for a better shot at an education. It’s no wonder that black students make up only a fraction of mathematics and physical science matric passes. It’s no wonder that our universities have such low degree completion rates for black students.
No wonder, because for each of these ugly statistics there is the same story, one which plays out every day at the four senior secondary schools we work with in the rural Eastern Cape. The loss of temporary teachers has meant most schools are operating on 40 – 60 % of their previous year’s staffing. Now already crowded classrooms – without electricity, running water, sufficient desks and chairs, let alone learning materials – are bordering on the impossible. 90 – 100 students (no exaggeration, I counted!) are jammed into one room under the control of a teacher often responsible for teaching six different classes in subjects they are not qualified to teach. Loss of scholar transport has meant that the R30 round-trip to school each day is unaffordable for many students. No more school meals means that the one guaranteed nutritious meal that many students counted on no longer happens.
For more information on the situation in the Eastern Cape, check out two recent articles in our local paper… ‘So sorry about your schools, Eastern Cape’ (http://www.dispatch.co.za/news/article/543) and Victory for mud schools (http://www.dispatch.co.za/news/article/531) (why schools need a court case in order to “win” a decent place to learn I do not know!). They left me wondering whether these headlines are reaching anyone beyond the Eastern Cape or indeed whether anyone cares enough to do something about it. For one cannot help but feel that what we are witnessing is a crime of the gravest proportions. It is an educational genocide that continues to consign millions of rural children to the sidelines of society.
When I meet with learners and their parents I have hope for the future. When I meet with teachers and principals I still have hope. As our work here grows, my hope grows. But I’m left wondering, after more than a decade and a half of democracy, what needs to happen here before the fundamentals for learning are put in place in all our schools.