South African Education is built on broken parts…

It’s not apartheid that is the problem, it’s the systems behind it (that still exist today)

Zahara Chetty
Feb 13, 2019 · 10 min read

My last post was not a political one, and I’m not blaming apartheid for all our problems in the country. I’m blaming the systems that supported it, enforced it and continue to perpetuate it. You can read it here

You can’t fix systems built for inequality

The education system that created inequality at its core, the housing system that forcibly removed people from their homes and land and placed them in shanty-towns or packed them in like sardines into townships — where most still live, or the urban planning systems that kept Indians as buffers between Black and White communities or that designed most of our communities with only one main entrance and exit that could be blocked off at any time for obvious reasons, or the financial systems that still thrive over creating a nation indebted to the elite and ALL THE OTHER SYSTEMS that are designed to keep the majority (and by majority I do not mean black, I mean the majority of human beings) down, in similar ways all over the world.

Apartheid is over but ‘separate development’ persists.

Apartheid was not a single-person decision and it would not have been possible without the systems in place to support it. Let’s not focus on the law of apartheid or its abolishment, let us focus on the broken systems that are its legacy, and that have been specifically created in certain ways for a reason (usually oppressive reasons) and what we need to do to fix it. Step one is acknowledging it.

Yes, it is over. No, the systems have not changed — that much.

You can still very much see the stark differences in the neighborhoods and the types of schools we have. While some are worrying about the state of the grass on their rugby fields, others are worrying about whether the government will release funds to build toilets this year or if they have to lose more children to the pit-toilet saga. (Maybe the tender is still out, we’ll only know next year… or the year after…)

There is still no equality and BEE is not really making any difference from what we can see. The corporates are still (mostly) run by white execs with the token black guy who’s always there on picture day, but doesn’t really have a say. The quotas companies face are met by rainbow colored mass-laborers at the bottom and a few of the elite at the top. Nevermind the gender wage -gap, we also have the color-wage gap to deal with (don’t act like you don’t talk about it amongst yourselves), but we should be grateful that they are actually giving us jobs, right? This is what real opportunities look like, right? We should just be grateful for the opportunity to work side-by-side, even if we still eat at our own tables at lunch, right? (Get offended it’s fine. I’m just telling you of my own experiences of corporate South Africa.)

So yes, apartheid is over, but most people haven’t noticed any great changes… only the bad ones. Now new people are coming into your neighborhoods and our businesses, children from ‘outside’ are being bussed to your schools, the level of education is going down, the prices of your properties are going to drop, drugs, gangsters, alcoholism and all kinds of weird things are happening around your kids that you can no longer control.

Many are crying for the ‘good old days’ and I don’t blame you. It’s hard to change, especially if you had it good and now you have to share. It’s like being an only child and getting all the attention and now you have quintuplets to deal with and there is not enough to go around without losing something yourself! Eish, I feel your pain.

Our new government is no better at running things more efficiently than one would expect them to. They never had the education or the experience to be able to do that. They never saw what a well-run, inclusive, thriving country should look like (please do not tell me how great it was under apartheid… only a few had it great).

The innate fear of lack fuels their greed and penchant for corruption and NO I am not saying it is okay. It’s like a person who does not have money to buy his own alcohol and will binge-drink the minute someone else is paying for it. It’s NOT OK, but you are driven by fear and not rationality. They never knew what treating others or being treated with respect or consideration meant, but now you expect it from them? How should they have learnt it? Values have been missing from our society for a long time.

Our society needs resilience

Yes, we have been dealt a shit hand. We need a resilient society to be able to handle that, to overcome that and to thrive again. Sitting in the corner, moaning about us vs them makes you part of the problem and if you want to leave the country, it’s okay. If you’re not going to do anything constructive, go complain about us from the comfort of some well-built posh state-of-the-art school in Europe or anywhere else. It’s okay to feel the way you do.

We do not have time to waste on the whiners. If you became a teacher because this was the only job you could get, better if you leave the system altogether. For those of you who followed a calling, who became teachers to raise a great nation, to lead by example, it’s time to really take your passion and put it into action. Now is the time for change.

Resilience is the ability to overcome — trauma, adversity, hardship, misfortune etc. It is not just something that people are born with. It is learnt and can be cultivated. Research has shown that to build resilience, the single most common factor is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. That means you!

In most cases, this falls onto the teacher. Children these days aren’t connecting with anything but a cellphone. A lot of times, you are the only one giving that infuriating child attention, and we know that any attention is good attention. In my experience, blaming the parent for ‘not disciplining their own child at home’ is a pointless exercise. In majority of cases I have encountered, the parents often need more help than the children.

Parents are a problem, but not in the way you think

When I was a new teacher, not knowing how to control my class and butting heads with kids on all levels, I found myself calling in parents on a number of occasions to ‘discuss their child’s behavior’. Once I was even hit in the face with a loaded schoolbag by a child that almost broke my nose!

The parent was ‘too busy at work’ to bother to come to school. “Hello, your child just assaulted a teacher…?”
My immediate reaction was that this guy should have had his tubes tied or at least have used a condom instead of creating this child he had no time to bother about.

Only years later did I realize this trend of how so many children were growing up in a society where parents are too busy trying to make a life that they forgot about living. They forgot about the children they had left unattended, unloved and unguided while they were busy with their careers, social media or their own addictions and destructive relationships trying to heal their own wounds.

It’s not a poverty problem

It’s not just a poverty thing either. I worked in private schools, public schools and even online schools. This is an epidemic. Everyone is becoming more and more isolated. The rich kids are often left to grow up with the nannies while their parents are busy tending to their businesses or social lives, the poor kids are left to their own devices, walking the streets looking for things to distract them or find belonging with.

The only thing I realized from meeting these parents was that ‘hurt people hurt other people’ and ‘bullies are most probably bullied’. If there is a kid in your class that needs to stamp his authority all over the school yard, his self worth is probably inversely proportional to the power he thinks he wields by being a jerk. His sickening attitude is just a distraction from his own feeling of worthlessness.

This is a major driving force for children to join gangs, become criminals etc. Destructive behavior gives them a sense of power and autonomy. It gives them a sense of notoriety and recognition — something they crave so badly. Other distractions are drugs, alcohol, sex, bullying, criminal behavior… even shopping. Yes, consumerism is a global addiction fuelled by depressed, lonely, inadequate and miserable people.

We are addicted to distraction

An addiction can be anything that you use to distract yourself from dealing with your core issues. We all have them on some level and it is usually hiding something we feel inadequate about in our lives. Some of us are obsessed with our careers, our work or our looks, our children and many other things. You will find these obsessive behaviors in most people in society. We tend to obsess about things we can get validation for and ignore the things we really need to fix inside.

Most of our addictions as a society are built around consumerism. We are told that if we can buy, get or have certain things, we will feel better. This drivel is fed into our brains on billboards, television, internet ads and even via our mobile phones. The news and continuous stream of negative incidents that bring us down on a daily basis prime us for being brainwashed by the media with their “You feel so bad, life is so miserable… here, if you buy this you will be awesome…” type content.

I know, because at one point, I was designing them. All these systems, including the present broken education system, are creating a world of zombies destined to just get recycled into the system that keeps the majority of the world down while it feeds a few at the top.

Wake up

If you haven’t realized that yet, and you think life is about finishing matric, studying if you’re lucky, getting a job if you’re luckier, getting married, having 2.3 children and then running on the work-eat-sleep treadmill for the rest of your life, then congratulations you’re a successful product of the current education system!

While some people can live out these lives of quiet desperation, too afraid to take a stand, drowning out the sounds of the souls that are dying inside, others need to wake up and make the changes we want to see in the world.

Teachers have been put in a corner and oppressed by the useless work that they are required to do — as dictated by the system. The real work of a teacher is about showing people how to be human, how to live purposeful, meaningful and successful lives. Mostly though, we are just focused on our average test scores and paperwork.

I know of teachers who have been under so much pressure to meet these requirements that they even fake these tests and give the students the answers beforehand. I have written reports about many a situation like this at schools. Again, these are just symptoms of a broken system, that do not support the teachers in their real goals. Again, it’s NOT OK, but you can see why these problems are creeping up more often than not.

Children in school remember your character, they remember your attitude and they remember the way you treated them. It reinforces how they think of themselves. If you think they are a piece-of-shit kid, chances are that deep down they feel the same way about themselves.

Isn’t that sad? This child who feels so lowly about themselves will never be able to overcome this without someone showing them it is possible. They will never be able to overcome the hole they find themselves in without someone believing in them, and that someone has to be them… but they do not even know it and there is nobody to tell them that.

Even the smartest kid in your class could be creating this whole facade about how awesome they are, while feeling like a complete failure on the inside. All of a sudden they commit suicide and nobody knows why. Don’t be fooled by children’s actions, always look beyond what people pretend to be. The bully and the brainiac could have the very same issues, just manifesting in different ways. Your test results in class will not dictate who succeeds in life later on. We are all missing something profound if our education is only about marks.

Real education is about empowerment, not control

Governments do not always know best for their citizens. We can see that in countries all over the world. Very few actually do what is in the best interests of their nations. Homeschooling seems to be a growing trend and rightfully so, but even that is only thinking about our own children. We can’t just leave the rest of society to rot — because it contributes to the future society your children will find themselves in, and we are all in this together. We want the best for our own children, but how can we create good learning experiences for children who do not have the privilege of having parents like you?

The entire education system needs an upgrade, redo or better yet a replacement. It’s already broken. Just adding new subjects, new constraints, lower pass marks or more admin is not going to fix it. You’re just adding layers of quick-fixes onto a loaded failure.

We need a rethink of what ‘education’ is in the fourth industrial revolution. What purpose does it serve? Why do our kids need to be educated? What kind of society do we want and how can education help us get it. What do we need to do now to shape the education we want for tomorrow?

As an educator, as a leader, if you are asking what the fourth industrial revolution is, we are in deeper trouble than I thought…

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Zahara Chetty

Written by

Creative Problem Solver, UX Researcher, Writer, Polymath

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn | Tune in at | Connecting 500k+ monthly readers with 1,200+ authors