What about Schools?

From a pedagogy of the oppressed to a pedagogy of liberation

“It is probably cultural inertia which still makes us see education in terms of the ideology of the school as a liberating force and as a means of increasing social mobility, even when the indications tend to be that it is in fact one of the most effective means of perpetuating the existing social pattern, as it both provides and apparent justification for the social inequalities and gives recognition to the cultural heritage, that is, to a social gift treated as a natural one” (Pierre Bourdieu, The School as a Conservative Force)

If the kingdom of God is one of freedom, liberation and justice, then as the church we have a moral responsibility to participate in calling into question the powers, systems and institutions which reinforce the status quo of inequality by privileging some and oppressing others. Education is one such site, a site of struggle and a primary site where inequality is presently being reproduced.

Inasmuch as South Africans can celebrate the changes of 1994, a closer look at schools in South Africa may leave one wondering about what actually changed? Despite the sloganism of a “rainbow nation” and the chanting of “Simunye, we are one”, very little seems to have shifted with regard to the transformation of schooling. While the opening up of schools formerly reserved for Whites has enabled a movement of middle-class Black (Black, Coloured, Indian) families into the old Model-C schooling environment, the majority of Black South Africans remain in schools that were grossly under-funded during Apartheid and remain under-resourced, overcrowded and ill-equipped even today. The patterns of academic achievement produced today still mirror past (and contemporary) inequalities. Life has not changed very much for the majority of the South African population. In the words of Lefebvre “a revolution that does not produce a new space has not realised its full potential”.

If we want to encourage diversity and equal education then we must interrogate those aspects of educational policy which are preventing racial and economic integration, the remnants of apartheid-era thinking that have not yet been effectively dealt with in the South African Schools Act.
Educational Inequality is a problem of access, integration and economics.

Access

In 2016, Gauteng MEC Panyaza Lesufi was engaged with FEDSAS in a landmark case surrounding the constitutional right of schools to determine feeder zones of a 5km radius surrounding a school. This results of this particular case may well be what is necessary to encourage schools to change their admissions policy but it remains shocking that in 2017 we still have schools with exclusionary admissions policies. Implementing a feeder zone policy within a country that is not yet spatially integrated and in many ways still resembles the design of apartheid urban spatial planning means that many learners in disadvantaged communities are excluded from the possibility of applying to previously (and presently) advantaged schools. In addition to the implementation of feeder zones, the ability of schools to implement their own fee structures has created public schools that effectively operate as private entities, using the fee control mechanism as a means to filter out learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. At present there is too much space left between the Constitution, the South African Schools Act and provincial level policy for schools to continue operating the way they do currently. Instead of facilitating access, we have a situation of strict access control which is little different from physically erecting a sign outside a school that reads “Whites Only”.

Integration
A twin problem within an access controlled environment is the problem of integration. In some ways the game has shifted from race to economics where former model C schools and private schools are arguably more racially diverse than the average township school. This is not genuine integration though, it is simply the assimilation of a Black and Coloured middle class into middle class schools. The real win would be to see middle class White parents placing their children in township schools but this goal seem almost unattainable within the present structuring of South Africa’s education system.  The very existence of the private schooling industry undermines the goals of racial, cultural and economic diversity in our schools by providing a haven for middle class and elite families to shift their children (and of course their economic resources) to when the culture shock becomes too much to bear. At the risk of jumping too quickly to solutions, it may be worthwhile to consider alternative models such as mixed-income schooling, more pro-active affirmative action policies in the education sector and the winding down of private education in SA. Of course, as pro-active as these suggestions may be they mask the underlying issue, our communities remain segregated because they reflect the economic inequality and segregation that plagues South Africa, and in fact education cannot be viewed apart from the broader macroeconomic issues which plague our nation.

Something more to watch on the education front in relation to integration is the new proposal for a three-stream education system (academic stream, technical-vocational stream and technical-occupational stream). Attempting to layer a three-stream education system similar to that in Germany, within a racially and economically stratified society would be almost a throwback to Apartheid era politics. Inevitably, the poor would end up filtered into technical streams where they may aspire to be no more than labourers for their wealthier and supposedly more academic counterparts… “a social gift, treated as a natural one” (Pierre Bourdieu, The School as a Conservative Force).

Economics

Finally, whilst schooling has the potential to be a liberating force we cannot treat it as an institution that is divorced from the rest of society. There is far more evidence to demonstrate that out-of-school factors (Coleman, 1966), and that socio-economic factors can negatively influence a learners schooling achievement than there is to show that schools transform communities.

“…Broader social inequalities ripple through schools in complex ways – inequalities of poverty, class, race, gender and region – and schooling tends to perpetuate both forms of injustice if they are features of the broader society. In fact, the most effective way for schooling to do this is to act as if these injustices did not exist by treating everyone the same.” (Pam Christie, Opening the Doors of Learning, p. 172)

This does not mean we should resign ourselves from righting the wrongs in the education system and fighting for equal education and quality education that takes into account every learner. Rather, it means that in our fight for equal education we need to also be conversant about economic issues, land issues and health issues, as all of these weigh in very heavily upon the task of schooling. This calls for an alliance across the sectors, and the working together of activists who are fighting the battle on different fronts. It implies that that we need to educate ourselves about how economic policy and land issues intersect with issue of education and schooling and vice versa.

In closing, I am hopeful that in the present moment we are experiencing an awakening of individuals and communities who recognise the political dimensions of kingdom work and who are motivated to genuinely make a difference. If we should give the revolution a name, let it be a revolution of love, for it is God’s love that draws all near and ushers us all into the place of shalom. If such a revolution must produce a new space, let it be a space where peace, love and justice prevails.

A final quote:

“We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable. We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and co-opted by the royal consciousness that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought.” (Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, p. 39)

Ashley Visagie
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http://www.bottomup.org.za

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