The recent developments in our Institutions of Higher Learning, with the recent marches by progressive student formations across the country, are a depiction of challenges of ‘education exclusivity’ at its best.
Polokwane has eloquently expressed an intention by the leading political forces in the country to deliver free education as per the spirit of the Freedom Charter? Well and fine! The reality of the matter is that we demand free education but we have not yet confronted a critical question of costs in education.
The reality is that the National Planning Commission Diagnostic Report has elevated education as a ‘change driver’ by loudly depicting it as ‘central to South Africa’s long-term development, and are core elements in eliminating poverty and reducing inequality and the foundations of an equal society’.
According to Behaviorist people learn when they think it is worthwhile to do so. Key questions of what make people resist to learn? It has been researched that it may be caused by lack of motivation, lack of ability or aptitude, poor teaching and lastly the cost of education.
The latter in my view is an aire-borne disease that is bringing our country, our government, our education system into disrepute.
South Africa has been sitting on a gauntlet that have found a window to explode due to the high fees demanded by often reactionary-led institutions and living large on salaries paid to their heavy-top management at the expense of Students and Workers, who often than not become weakened by the powers that be.
The case in point is the recent disruptions in some campus from KwaZulu-Natal, North West and the chaos that ripped Durban University of Technology Steve Biko’s Campus. The list is endless… Students by law are part of the Institution’s Council and arguments are always raised to say ‘they” were part of the decisions, to increase the salaries of managers and/or tuition fees. Therefore whether ‘they’ were there or not in my view becomes irrelevant.
But many amongst the corridors of power know the essence of ‘power relations in such council meetings’. It is about a vote. Once a matter has been put on a vote there is no reverse gear. A decision is taken which binds all, including the students. Period!
The poverty levels does not afford majority blacks; and (whites) as poverty crosses the racial lines in our country, a free passage to study at Institutions of Higher Learning What is our starting point?
The ANC Polokwane Conference resolved on:
• focusing rigorously on the quality of education
• placing FET’s Colleges at the centre of a popular drive to transfer skills to our people, including by providing these institutions with more resources, and scaling up dedicated bursary schemes, to popularize and subsidise attendance at FET institutions, and
• Progressive introduction of free education for the poor until to the under graduate level.
And further the ANC 2009 Election Manifesto pronounces amongst others on;
• Making education the priority of all.
• Improving the quality of schooling.
• Reviving the role of state-owned enterprises in skills development and training, and
• Encouraging students from the working class and poor communities to go to tertiary institutions by reviewing and improving NSFAS.
Emanating from the crisis currently, it is indeed regrettable to end this historic year 2012; a year of the ANC centenary and largely the consolidation of mass support on the state of affairs of all the citizens, with a debate on free education still dividing progressive forces in this country.
But the bottom line should be that the students are the future leaders of the country and therefore authors of solution of the struggles of their lifetime.
Our call as activists is to strengthen COSAS, SASCO, YCL, ANCYL and other student progressive movement to put at the centre the unpacking of these challenges to consolidate the vision of South Africa with better opportunities for all.
Recently SASCO in its media dialogue reiterated an Africa’s Claim assertion that ‘education of the African is a matter of national importance requiring state effort for its realization’...
And therefore the coming Policy Conference must be genuinely be utilized to further assert such imperatives for implementation! It has always been argued by SACP, COSATU, ANC and other progressive forces that ‘we’ need to place education as a ‘societal concern’, including in tertiary institutions.
We need to develop skills to change the growth path characterized by; furthering an education system for the few rich children and high poverty levels for the majority poor, is a trajectory which must be challenged daylight!
We must ask what caliber of Institution’s Council do we put in place to entrench the transformation agenda, is not derailed by shallow battle for resources these institutions have and comprise the key responsibility of skilling our people.
We shall forever not forget what happened at UNISA; where during the late 2007 it has become a platform to comprise the independence of the institutions, by operating on party lines and/or factional politics, especially by the former Vice Chancellor.
Debating shall ever remain an engine for human development and a key to nurture the potentials of our future, young people.
Dipping our heads on the sands and assume that it is business as usual, is the same as throwing our future into a dustbin. Without a shadow of doubt ‘education is a catalyst to empower people to define their identity, raise healthy families, take part confidently in developing a just society, and play an effective role in the politics and governance of their communities’.
Once Martin Haberman said ‘Life greatest gift is the opportunity to throw oneself into a job that puts meaning and hope into the lives of other people’ and as such students, councils and the government must be seen saving our learners from the doom of anarchy in our lifetime. Costs in higher education must be eradicated!
Otherwise, it will be a pipe-dream to realize fully the life-long importance of universities, to occupy the centre stage as the ‘dominant producers of new knowledge, catalyst to critique information and continue to find local and global applications of existing knowledge’.
Commodification of education is a stumbling block towards universal, free, quality public education!
By: Mampane Norman
Former National Spokesperson at POPCRU
Facebook: Norman Mampane