I don’t usually blog about overtly political issues, not because I am not a political animal, but because I believe that my approach is implicitly political, and does not require overstatement. It is hard to remain silent, though, amid scenes of South African students protesting against fee increases, and exclusions from Universities. The Freedom Charter, the founding document of our democracy, was quite explicit on the matter. The doors of learning and culture shall be opened. There’s no real room for ambiguity there, and yet our government has done precious little in its power to promote education, or access to education. It has allowed the bursaries fund to become bankrupt, and is falling far short of its obligations in terms of subsidising Universities, forcing Universities to raise fees well above the rate of inflation. Indeed its failures in higher education are mirrored in a failure to address educational issues across the board. Faced with the manifest short-comings and iniquities of Apartheid education, it chose to implement an arcane and unnecessarily behaviourist interpretation of Outcomes Based Education, which left even good teachers scratching their heads and poorly trained teachers totally at sea. And when the short-comings of this approach were plain to all, it tinkered with the system rather than change it!
South Africa is not alone in seeing University fee increases used as a weapon of exclusion, and our students are not alone in taking to the streets to protest the burden of debt that is placed upon their shoulders by this, but as South African teachers we need to add our voices to the reasonable demand that education, at all levels, should be kept affordable and accessible to all regardless of gender, class or race. The protests this week are re-affirming our commitment as South Africans to the principles of the Freedom Charter, and to freedom of access to a quality education.
As a teacher of ICTs I have found the way twitter was used by the protesters as inspirational. A succession of hashtags was used to organise and publicise protest – #WitsFeesMustFall became #WitsFeesWillFall as students smelled victory, and now #NationalShutDown has been employed as the protest spreads nationally. Pictures and video was used skillfully to document events and challenge the narrative being promoted on national media. When celebrities tried to hijack the protests, selfies were banned!
Education has been allowed to slide into such crisis, and it is time for us all, teachers, students and administrators to take ownership of what is way too important to leave in the hands of politicians. It is time to #OccupyOurClassrooms! Within our classrooms we have the power to be inclusive rather than exclusive; to ensure that we engage with our students rather than merely process them through the sausage machine.