By Christopher Williamson
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 3 of VARSITY News.
On the 14th of April a hashtag called ‘#CelebritiesAreNotTeachers’ took South African Twitter by storm. The entire hashtag came as a result of the Department of Education endorsing prominent South African figures to be “student teachers” and readers for an initiative developed by the company, Afrika Teen Geeks.
The hashtag gradually moved away from focusing on the celebrities and moved towards the issues which teachers across the country were having with the idea. What does it say about the state of education system if educators are feeling disrespected? The general outcry from educators was that their jobs and qualifications were overlooked and that using celebrities in any capacity for lessons was greatly disrespectful towards their years of studying towards their qualifications. The issues of general underpayment and lack of resources (which were experienced for years prior to the national lockdown) were also addressed to emphasise the South African government’s history of letting down its educators. The overall theme of the conversation then became that educators in South Africa are not respected.
Using celebrities has its advantages, such as them being able to attract learners because of their popularity – almost like a “make reading cool again” campaign. The question drawn is, does it take pedagogical (method and practice of teaching) knowledge to be a reader for kids? In my opinion, yes, because as it happened in one of the sessions hosted for Foundation Phase learners by celebrity Pearl Modiadie, the word “illustrations” was used in the lesson.
Educators are unemployed, yet the government would seemingly endorse celebrities, for the jobs which qualified educators could do better. The education space isn’t the place for the pushing of one’s publicity agenda—especially at the expense of another. It’s a slap in our educators faces for this very reason. Is our Department of Basic Education saying that celebrities can do a better job than our educators?
When the celebrity “student teacher” says that “sitting” is a noun or that “quickly” is an adjective, it should be clear as day that qualified educators should have had that opportunity. Education should not be your way of earning ‘clout’ – it’s more than a way to “secure your bag”. When we have educators in South Africa who have a long history of being unemployed and under resourced, the response should be to support and not neglect.
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