By Lauren McCallister
Since my tribe has a focus on policies, we have spent a significant amount of time researching education in South Africa and how it was affected due to apartheid. Since arriving in the country, I have picked up on many current events relating to education the education system here. On the 21st, our class visited the Ekukhanyisweni Primary School in Alexandra for service work. While there, I witnessed the school’s lunch and recess and was able to play with the students during this time, sort the shoes we brought to hand out, sized students for their new shoes, and walked around the school and library. We also had a conversation with Grace, the principal, about possible projects for Elon SASA that would benefit EPS.
Upon our arrival, our class had a conversation about how the students lack positive examples and opportunities. Another student and I created a poster about this idea while we were still in Cape Town and were asked to make posters sending a message regarding something we had experienced while in South Africa. We wanted to show that even though a black or colored student living in a township may have the same abilities as a white student in South Africa, they will usually end up with less opportunities for the future presented to them since they face many more hardships, such as discrimination and social status, along the way. One of the potential projects we discussed for the school is to have a speaker series with people who live in their township or are alumni of the school and are now successful. In the meantime, Dr. Layne reminded us to be good role models while we were there and to share a different perspective of the world with them.
As I mentioned in my last post, I have experienced a couple different kreshes and met several school-aged kids in other townships around Cape Town. This was a whole new experience for me since school is now officially in session after the holiday break and EPS is a more formal setting than the other schools I have seen. The building is two floors and forms a square shape around a quad in which the students congregate during their lunch and recess time. All students wore some type of uniform representing the schools colors of red, black, and white. We learned while we were there about how there used to be a tuition for children to attend public schools. The government has more recently done away with this, but it still does not provide uniforms along with education and supplies, which means most of the uniforms owned by students came from the Adopt-A-Student program that Elon SASA participated in. The government also allocates a certain amount of money each year for classroom supplies and basic stationary, but the amount is exact, so there is no room for error. During lunch, I saw kids walking around with their pencil boxes and rulers under their arms. Kids could also pay for a school lunch in the courtyard during this time, and I could see many of them took advantage of this. I found the way this school very interesting because it was clearly so much more organized than the kresh we visited, since there were many classrooms, uniforms, school supplies, and school lunches. Even so, the school still has a lot it needs to work on.
Overcrowding is a huge problem in many schools like this in South Africa. EPS is one of the nicer and newer public schools for townships, so the government keeps pushing students to go there. One problem that has stemmed from overcrowding is a lack of teachers. Dr. Layne explained this when we arrived and said she was surprised more teachers have not quit yet. Grace also made it clear that there is a lack of teacher appreciation which makes their jobs even more exhausting. I read an article in The Star newspaper on the 22nd called “Why our teachers are leaving,” that explained some more of the reasons South African schools are lacking educators. It says “badly behaved pupils and a lack of support from education officials and parents were driving teachers to early retirement and resignation,” which I could clearly see at the school we visited.
Another problem coming from the overcrowding of classrooms is a lack of supplies for the students. The next day we went to the Apartheid museum, and there was an exhibit with an extremely powerful photo of a black student kneeling on the ground of his classroom, writing on a slate. During this time, slates were all that students were given to take notes on, which means they would have to erase everything they just wrote once they filled it up. This made learning very difficult since they could only learn through repetition. I could not help but to make this parallel as I walked around looking into the classrooms at EPS that were filled with fifty students each, and half of them on the ground since there are not enough desks.
Although improvements have been made in black and colored schools in South Africa, many of the problems such as quality of education and overcrowding still exist today. Can other schools use the nicer schools like EPS as a model in order to evenly spread out students among schools? Will the government ever put a plan in place to support educators and teacher certification? I am also interested and excited to see what Elon SASA will decide to focus on for a long-term project to help.