Non-profit initiative gives hope as public education system fails

Within education activism circles there is an ongoing debate about how far to support private education in our efforts to see the dream of education for all realised.

Clearly, education cannot be left to the proverbial marketplace; it is a fundamental right which the state should provide through the fiscus.

The trouble, of course, is when public education systems fail to deliver quality education and parents – rich and poor – begin voting with their feet to seek private options.

In South Africa, we have seen, in particular, the rapid expansion of low-fee private schools catering for the lower income end of the market.

For education activists the growing privatisation of education poses a threat to the social confidence in the state education system.

Activists take principled positions in particular against for-profit education companies.

For activists, it is important that existing public schools be capacitated adequately by both government and the private sector, because the majority of children cannot opt out of the public system.

Over the years I have been involved in many initiatives to fight for the improvement of our basic education system, including ending up in court with fellow activists to attempt to get Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to rigorously implement the 2011 Section 100(1)(b) intervention that put the Eastern Cape department of education under the national department’s administration.

It was ironic that I ended up supporting the legal route because in fact I was opposed to that national takeover in the first place.

The reason I opposed is because it was obvious at the time that much of the dysfunction was being driven by high-stakes politicking.

All that a national takeover would do was paralyse the daily workings of the system because education administrators could just say “we cannot take action because we are under administration”.

Interestingly, while we awaited the outcome of the legal matter, I sat in the court and spoke to a young Canadian who was assisting one of the legal teams.

We started talking about supporting private vs public education, and I said to him I did not see it as an either/or scenario – it was perfectly reasonable for parents to opt out.

He vehemently disagreed with me, giving what to me seemed like a really out-of-touch ideal.

In the end I asked him, “Would you take your children to one of our public schools?”

No substantial answer was forthcoming.

The reality is, when it comes down to it, South African activists have to fight for basic education while also supporting private or semi-private initiatives because if all we ever do is fight the state, we will lose hope.

One of the latest inspiring initiatives is a non-profit girls school called Molo Mhlaba, which was recently established in Khayelitsha.

What is key about the school is that it is focused on equipping girls from under-served communities with a science, maths, technology and arts education from day one.

The name “Molo Mhlaba” was chosen because it is the translation of “Hello World” – the first message that computer science students across the world learn to generate with computer code.

The name speaks poignantly in isiXhosa to the child who will be equipped with an education that provides the tools and gives them the options to take on the challenges of the world with confidence

The fact that these initiatives have started up does not, however, absolve the state of its duty.

Activists continuously fight battles on behalf of poor children in public schools. What one hopes for is that one day, by some chance of fate, we will have committed people with vision working in our education departments, and they will look at initiatives like Molo Mhlaba and appreciate them as the kind of quality education that every child in this country deserves.

lYou can visit Molo Mhlaba’s website at www.molomhlaba.org.

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