At Cradle of Humankind Museum a quote found on the wall of education really stuck with me. WB Yeats, writer and poet, said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of fire.” WB Yeats is saying that education should not be about snippets of knowledge that students collect as they move from course to course. It should be more like gathering kindling, letting students play with matches, encouraging them to take risks and hoping that some the materials will burst into flames and become lifelong interests. Kids should take these interest from their education to create a successful future for themselves. In the townships of South Africa, education is a constant battle while just a few miles down the road there is wealth and endless opportunity.
Townships, used as a method to segregate black South Africans through the Group Areas Act of 1950, are located on the outskirts of urban areas and provide large populations with small portions of land. Even though the end of Apartheid was years ago, the education systems in townships still lacks basic fundamentals for future opportunities. When discussing in class one day, the topic was the lack of opportunity there is for the people in the townships. All the discussions came back to how the basics of education open doors to a wide range of opportunities. However, just a few miles down the road, outside of the townships, one can see the money and privilege others have in South Africa.
During apartheid, the schools kids would attend was determined by race. Now it is determined by what families can afford. Schools in townships often lack tools for a proper education and do not have the money to improve their schools systems. While a school in the wealthy, predominantly white areas have sport fields with constant maintenance, grants to build new buildings, and a surplus of money to update whatever is needed within those facilities. According to the National Education Infrastructure study, 79% of township schools are without a library and only 7% have stocked libraries. A library provides all sources of information to help one learn.
The correlation between wealth of a school and its outcome of the students has been studied for years. Many even observe that well resourced schools perform and have a greater a outcome of graduates than the counterparts in poor townships. In the article, “Preparing Socially Conscious Teachers” the author Ukpokodu states, “In a multicultural democracy, schooling without educational equality constitutes injustice.” Even reflecting home in the United States, the public school I went to was constantly updating itself to enhance the student’s educational outcomes. While a few towns over was a poor area who had a low graduation rate because they couldn’t afford resources to enhance their learning so the students did not enjoy learning and often dropped out.
When in the township of Langa after seeing a billboard for attending school, our tour guide, Sugar, explained that many of the children going to school need the encouragement to continue their education. Many of the children go to school to “fulfill” their requirement but don’t further advance their knowledge. She also said that many of the families of the townships cannot afford further education like college so many students complete school and work entry level jobs in the townships or struggle to find a job. While the wealthy areas like Hermanus, college and further education is never a worry to the kids. It something everyone does within that community.
Here’s how this works: most white South Africans’ parents or grandparents are able to buy and own property and create their own businesses or find well paying jobs. They are then able to pay off their properties or expand their businesses. Which enables them to leave the proceeds of this wealth to their children as either an inheritance or a financial jump-start in life. Most black South Africans have no such jump-start. They stand and fall on their own efforts alone and there is very little safety net if they don’t make it. Family wealth is already thinly spread to cover those who have nothing. A lot of this leads back to the education. Without proper education, well paying jobs are a struggle to find. Especially if you’re competing with someone who has a full resume because they were able to afford college and further skills. Education allows exponential returns as you develop.
For many black South Africans the situation will be even worse than those in wealthy communities. They won’t be able to make it to a university, if they can get through school, and will need to immediately work to help the family. This is not just an observation, it’s fact. It is a direct result of the economics stances of the townships.
There are so many different kinds of injustice in this world. Unequal opportunity of education is one of them. To me, education also goes beyond the meaning of learning numbers and words. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Education is essential to good citizenship and that education is important to life because it enables people to contribute to their community and their country.” Education gives one the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and provide a sustainable income not only for themselves but for their whole family. When it comes to opportunity, financial well being has a lot to do with it. Money gives one a broader range of opportunity whether it’s travel, jobs, and most importantly an advanced education.
Chavkin, Nancy Feyl. Families and Schools in a Pluralistic Society. Albany, N.Y: State U of New York, 1993. Print
Ukpokodu, Omiunota Nelly. “Preparing socially conscious teachers: A social justice-oriented teacher education.” Multicultural Education 15.1 (2007): 8.