South African Students Congress

SASCO Perspective on Access to Education

Oh God, it has become our daily bread; students are protesting, what is to be done? Ask the ANC!

(Please note that in the main, this this perspective deals with higher education and specifically the challenge of access further education opportunities)

Introduction

Already we know that the education is one of the most unstable sectors in our economy (country). We have established the obvious fact that education is key to socio-economic development of society and releasing the potential of the individual in terms of human resource development. Already we know that majority of our population is youth between the ages of 14-35 and that they are either found at school, work or unemployment lines. And we know that education is a cornerstone for youth development.

Yes we also know that a society that does not care for its youth does not deserve its future. And the dilemma is that if indeed this South African society neglects its youth today; it will pay an immeasurable and near irreversible price; and this becomes more problematic because; we all know that the youth are the future and preferably leaders of tomorrow. At the same time there are energetic and thus; easy to mobilise!

These are to SASCO obvious known facts and truths. But what is the problem in education; what needs to be done?

The youth need education both formal and informal. The South African society as a whole needs to be mobilised to educate the youth in and outside the classroom through both forml and informal education. This will help advance the cause of development and the agenda for the African Renaissance.

During apartheid the battle-cry was “freedom now, education later” and now we believe the slogan should change to “education now; freedom forever”. This therefore proves that the dream for access to education has remained in the minds of the youth forever. Having postponed their education during apartheid was not a desirable thing to do however, due to conditions at the time, it was necessary. They fought for freedom, which included freedom to learn, to have access to education. Now they expect the freedom they fought for to deliver education to them, among other services. So that they can escape from ignorance, illiteracy, disease and poverty. Indeed, so that they can escape from being relegated to cheap-labour, casualisation and exploitation.

The struggle for access to education is a genuine and urgent struggle. It is not necessarily strictly sectarian. Education cuts across all spheres of life. Being able to read, write and count is necessary for employment, job creation, economic growth and development. And being able to have cutting-edge skills and knowledge is even more central in a knowledge driven economy which is fast integrating into the global economy. So, the struggle for access to education is sectarian and broad at the same time!

There must surely be a problem when the black students who fought to bring about changes in SA and in education in particular; continue to be the ones who protest every year against fees, indeed against the greatest enemy of students: financial and academic exclusions. Surely the ANC must worry. It shows how access to education continues to be skewed in terms of race and class in the main. That those who continue to face the violent axe of exclusion from higher education are black, working class and poor. Surely it cant be business as usual Mr President (Thabo Mbeki), surely the ANC must take the blame for neglecting higher education for 13 years!

The recent study of the HSRC on the reasons why students drop-out from varsity; shows the truth that we have always spoken as SASCO: that lack of money caused by poverty, inadequate poor schooling background combined with poor students support services are the main drivers of the high failure rat in our SA universities. (Full HSRC Research Report will be released towards the end of 2007).

The ANC has lost its way with education. It must go back to basics in Limpopo. It must reclaim its vision for education: People’s education, for people’s power. We have always shared in this vision as SASCO. And needless to say it can’t be people’s education for people’s power if it’s not accessible to the majority.

Apart from losing its vision for education; the ANC as an organisation has over the years since 1994 been incapacitated to deal in particular with higher education. The “paragraph approach” in the Social Transformation Discussion Document shows the lack of new ideas and policy perspectives within the ANC. The ANC is not the driver of education transformation in this country. The ANC is relegated to a passive spectator when serious work needs to be done. The agenda to transform education has been outsourced by the ANC to government; a government that bureaucratises education policy and thus degenerates it (policy) to reform and not transformation. A government which sometimes helps to reinforce the conservative and reactionary thinking and models in higher education.

Solution 1: The ANC must reclaim its vision for education transformation and it must reposition itself as a strategic driver of education ransformation.

Apartheid took conscious decisions, based on political will to educate the white child in this country. They even created an intermediate higher education system for those who left matric with a school-leaving certificate (an S-Pass) when they established technikons (now universities of technology). They never wanted a white child to fall through the cracks, at the end the white child had to be educated. It was political will and nothing else that drove apartheid. What makes the ANC fail to do the same and do it even better and smarter?

Solution 2: The ANC must progressively introduce free education for the poor in the immediate and universally to all in the long term.

The problem has always been the high level of conservative thinking around the concept of free education especially by the Minitry of Education, even under the current Minister and the Vice-Chancellors have always been part of this thinking. If Brazil, a developing country with three times the size of SA’s population can provide free education what stops SA from doing the same? This is but one model and example, there are many others.

We need to look beyond the budget or fiscus and mobilise resources beyond government coffers. The tax system needs to be looked into, mineral resources need to be used to fund education and the private sector needs to do more in terms of financial contribution.

This free education must have the following features:

Free education is cheap. It is more expensive to have a mass pool of uneducated youth than to have an educated nation. So what will SA choose? It is urgent; it must make the choice now!

Prof Pityana (UNISA) and Rensburg (UJ) and Nongxa (Wits) represent a conservative corps of Vice-Chancellors in South Africa that SASCO fights everyday in campuses and will continue to fight in the near future. Their high education does not liberate them; it makes them conservative and reactionary everyday. Education must liberate ones thinking, it must be scientific as well. And science teaches us that nothing is impossible. But these self-professed progressive academic leaders believe free education is impossible in SA. Where the hell on earth do such scientists get produced? Surely scientists cant ascribe to the idea that things are impossible!

In fact if anything, our struggle for access to education and ultimately free education is in tandem with the wishes of universities for an increas in government subsidy. Instead of them seeing us as an ally in providing a sustainable and yet accessible higher education system; they see us as enemies, hooligans who can’t think, criminals who deserve to be shot at whilst protesting peacefully. What type of parents are these and they all claim to be progressive!

The failure for the ANC to lead causes a paralysis in the system and it becomes difficult for stakeholders (students, managers and government) to converge even on minimal demands or a program on how to advance the agenda for education transformation. The void created due to laxity on the part of the ANC, allows Vice-Chancellors to think that they are little untouchable gods who can run universities either like spaza-shops or chiefdoms.

Conclusion

We need a comprehensive and lasting solution to the challenges of education transformation in South Africa; needless to say sustainable too: The blame must go to the ANC for the unstable nature of our education system and its dysfunctionality.

The ANC is probably the only liberation movement in the world that does not prioritise education after the attainment of freedo. Even Apartheid social engineers understood the strategic nature of education hence the legacy we must redress today. By so saying; we are not saying that other issues are not important issues of social transformation. But on education the ANC needs to rethink its philosophy and program.

We hope the mini-education policy summit ahead of the Limpopo Conference will set the stage clear to alleviate the policy void created by the AN itself. This will be the beginning of the ANC’s reclaiming its policy space on education matters.

So as the ANC goes to Limpopo these are some, not all, of the challenges facing higher education and education more broadly. Lets put the ANC to test and see if it is fit to govern education in SA!