Perspectives on Eastern Cape education

Over the past six weeks we’ve supported four University of Cape Town education students as they’ve completed their teaching prac’s at two local schools. Their experiences have been interesting… to say the least! Here Louis Pienaar and Josh Bassett reflect on their time in Zithulele:

“Being two UCT Education students having chosen to come to the Transkei to do our teaching practice, we knew we were about to face some serious challenges, both of a personal and logistical kind. Both were expected in this area infamous for service delivery issues – especially in the sectors of education and health care. We imagined single classroom schools, taking lessons under trees to find shelter from the sun and using a sticks in the sand as a blackboard. As we came here fresh and up for the experiences and challenges that came with being out here, we were excited about such challenges.

 To our surprise many of the areas were absent, being replaced with problems arguably worse. The school building, while it could do with maintenance, keeps the rain out, the classrooms have blackboards, and the staff area has electricity. There is a storeroom which is bursting at the seams with government-sponsored textbooks. Even a photocopier and some computers!

Yet, this storeroom is used as a kitchen. The books remain untouched, some still packaged as they arrived. The teachers, who for the most part are more than capable of their jobs, do not spend a lot of time teaching the 100-odd students in each class. And when they do, most of the tuition takes place in the students’ home language, which is not the language they are to be assessed in. The biggest, most unforeseen problem we faced was a language barrier almost impenetrable. It took every resource we could muster to be able to cross this divide. The problems, however, are deeply structural – we have realised that accusations are complex, just as the chaos of education in the Transkei is complex.

 Yet, despite the chaos, the students polish their shoes and walk 10km-plus to be at school, ready to learn in their only set of school uniform, washed daily. To see how far some of them come in spite of all the challenges that face them here, some even giving up their weekends to work with Axium, a dedicated local educational NGO, is just an indication of how much potential there is. There are bright minds, hopes and dreams yearning to be fulfilled. Unfortunately, the finger-pointing, political rhetoric and loud criticism from teachers to the media results in the losers being these students, the ones not pointing any fingers.

 Zithulele Hospital has shown how service delivery issues in the health care sector can be overcome  by inspired individuals who are more concerned with action than rhetoric – the education sector could do with the same.”

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