By Nevali Mohan
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 3 of VARSITY News.
With Covid-19 wreaking havoc in the international sphere, it comes as no surprise that the education sector is forced to navigate new ways of teaching and learning. Tertiary institutions have shifted completely to online learning. However, primary and secondary schooling has been halted indefinitely as there remains much contention as to what the post-lockdown academic year should entail.
It is worth noting that access to public schooling has improved post-1994 but most schools have not been enabling environments for developing young minds. The major change is much needed now as was then. The majority of public schools lack infrastructure and/or are overcrowded, among other things. South Africa failed to provide basic education – something enshrined in the constitution as a right. As the national lockdown persists and the economy enters recession, government intervention has prioritised the distribution of food parcels and grants. This marginalises education to the periphery whereby hunger and loss of income are prioritised for the greater good.
Due to how schools were racially discriminated against during Apartheid, the 1996 Schools Act No. 84 was introduced. Using a quintile ranking system that determines the status of the school (depending on fees and funding), the democratically-led South African government has struggled to undertake the transformation of an equitable educational landscape. Quintile 5 schools, the most affluent, receive the least funding and are still better off than those in Quintile 1. It is because Quintiles 4 and 5 have the right to raise additional funding through fees that can fortify their teaching and learning capacity. Schools in lower quintiles cannot necessitate a system of online learning. Furthermore, online learning initiatives during South Africa’s lockdown period presupposes that all students have access to the same resources. In reality, the diverse student body is a function of various socio-economic backgrounds in a country where information and communications technology lags behind that of the developed world.
And so, what more can one expect from a country that has failed to provide a basic human right and continues to allow the persistence of educational disparity in times of crisis when poverty, unemployment, and inequality seem to be top of the agenda?
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