We’ve come a long way as a country and as an education system since the restless class of 1976 took to the streets of Soweto and demanded the right to quality education, only to be met with violence and murder at the hands of a brutal Apartheid police force.
Fundamentally the activism of the 1976 youth was around the provision of quality education. The inferior Bantu Education system introduced in 1953 by Verwoed’s Government, with the specific intention to ensure black children’s hopes and dreams for a better life for themselves were stifled. The architects of Apartheid Education ensured that black children would not have the same opportunities that were afforded to white children.
In the book “Submissions on Apartheid Education”, a collection of personal stories about schooling under the Bantu Education system, John Dee Masombuka writes about how as a high school student Afrikaans was introduced as the medium of instruction and how this impacted on his entire life.
“This made the already useless Bantu Education system even worse and has been a cause of major havoc in my daily life.”
“We were forced to do all subjects in Afrikaans and that was the cause of many failures and dropouts. Secondly the subjects in most black schools were simply to useless as they did not prepare students to be productive and participate in the economy of the country.” Wrote Masombuka.
Apartheid education was orchestrated in a way that was deliberately designed to frustrate the black child, and to ensure that they did not succeed.
It has been 40 years since the youth uprising against Bantu Education and we can celebrate the gains we have made in the education system. Education is now the apex priority of this Government and education is combined with a package of social services such as the National School Nutrition Programme and no fee schools as well as the provision of text books and stationary to ensure that learners today can go to school in an enabling environment with the best possible chances of success.
Another submission in the book is from Teboho TieTie. It was short and simple and spoke directly to the constraints of Bantu Education.
“I wanted to know about earth and the things of space. I thought it was impossible to learn Science, while it is possible. They stopped my dream of learning scientific thing.”
Today it is our job as Government and officials in the education system to ensure that no child with an enquiring scientific mind will ever be stifled again. Every child should have the opportunity to study mathematics and science and be whatever they want to be. No dream should be considered impossible by a young child who has the world at their fingertips. 40 years since the 1976 uprisings we have prioritised the teaching of maths science and technology in our schools. This isn’t an easy task considering that due to the legacy of the Bantu Education system we are still grappling with a shortage of Mathematics and Science teachers. However there are pioneering projects in some provinces where ICT has been introduced into schools and South African learners are getting 21st century teaching and learning opportunities.
There are many examples one can look at such as the Mathematics broadcasting solution being used in the Free State to the introduction of tablets and smart boards in township schools in Gauteng and the school connectivity project in the Western Cape among others. Never again will the black child deliberately get an inferior education based on the colour of their skin.
The youth of 1976 taught us not to accept mediocrity especially when it comes to the education of our children. The sacrifice they made reminds us of the value of education. We have made huge strides in terms of access to a point where we have one of the best records in terms of access to basic education in the developing world, with 98% of South African children attending school. The focus of this administration has now shifted to quality. We are seeing huge progress being made in this regard. Not only did 2015 see more learners than ever before graduate from high school, but they left our system with more distinctions and more bachelors passes than ever before. We are also seeing consistent improvements in our international assessments and we have moved up in many of the international rankings. This year we are expecting positive results when the SAQMEC and PIRLS international assessment results are released later this year.
We know we still have many challenges that plague the education system, and we have a long way to go before we reach a stage where we can say we are satisfied. However 40 years on from the violent protests that cost hundreds of young lives, we are slowly but surely, systematically destroying the legacy of Bantu Education. I believe those who died in ’76 would be proud of the progress we have made and in their honour we will not rest until we completely abolish any lingering remnants of the oppressive and unequal Apartheid Bantu Education System.