By Lauren McCallister
We visited various townships on January 10th, 11th, and 12th, and by the 12th, I was adjusted enough that I could start picking up on things I didn’t get to notice the days prior. I was able to connect these visits very easily to the topics regarding children and education that we talked about in class before departing from the US. School isn’t in session until the 13th since it is still the holiday season here. As we walked around each township, I noticed the children roaming the streets aimlessly. They are of all ages – I even saw kids who could have been about seven years old, carrying around their baby siblings. One sight that will stick with me is a group of 10 year olds sitting on the stoop of the local Beer Hall. When they see us they run up and follow us down the street, not worrying where they will end up and without a parent in sight. It is clear that there is so much else going on for these families in the townships that kids are the least of parents’ worries. The moment that this became most evident for me is when we were serving lunches and passing out shoes to the children in the community at the township we visited yesterday, and parents were coming up to myself and the rest of the females on the trip offering to sell us their babies for no more than 20R which is just over one US dollar. After our visit, our class was able to discuss how their desperation to free themselves of the burden of their children, and to free their children of problems within their township and have them leave for the US was overwhelming.
As I mentioned before, we handed out new sneakers to many of the kids in the township. I noticed right away how few of them had shoes on their feet and we’re still running around the glass-covered streets on 90 degree summer days. Of course their lack of shoes is nothing that their families have the power to change, but it is clear that they also are not educated on health and safety. Health education is something I have definitely taken for granted, living in the US. I was also fortunate enough to grow up with many adults around me who cared about my safety. Not only are the children here unsupervised for much of the day when not in school, there is not a curriculum set up to teach them why they should not walk around the streets alone or when barefoot. So many things that I would consider dangerous in my experiences such as loose dogs or strangers in the neighborhood do not even cause these children to flinch.
Another aspect of health classes that I received while in grade school is how to practice safe sex and healthy relationships. One of our most recent readings discusses the prevalence of rape in townships and how that can lead to teen pregnancies, spread of diseases, and unhealthy relationships. In class we discussed how many children are neglected on the streets, but it could largely be due to larger problems within households such as abuse between parents.
Throughout this past week, there have been several articles in the Cape Town papers regarding recent standardized testing scores, as well as the successes of students in the Western Cape. Part of the research my group and I have conducted here and in the US is about wealth disparities affecting the quality of the education South African students receive, as well as the opportunities that come along with it. Wealth disparity has also been a large theme during our class time, as it greatly affects lifestyle. The article titled “SACS pupil beats odds to be SA’s top matric,” in the issue of the Cape Argus from January 6 confirms that this still holds true. Scores from this test range greatly between areas of poverty, and areas of wealth such as the Western Cape. Being able to physically go to the townships and see the way the kids live gave me a much greater insight to the quality of education they are receiving and how this may be holding them back from getting better test scores or opportunities in the future. After visiting the township yesterday, we discussed in class how the kids we saw might never realize their “potential.” I take this to mean that the boy I talked to who said he wants to be a doctor, may never have the chance to see if he has what it takes to become one since his schooling won’t prepare him for that. The class sizes in the townships are large, the classrooms are small, and resources are lacking. All students look toward their future and hope for opportunities to achieve their goals, but black students in townships are held back in all these ways that students in wealthier areas are not.
Now that the matric scores have been released for this year and the range of scores was wide enough to pull the average down from previous years, will the government do anything to change and improve the test for next year? Will they send more help to those areas that had the lowest scores?