Remembering June 16th: thoughts on education today

“A pile of bricks, no matter how well crafted, is not a wall. And a group of walls, no matter how sturdy or beautiful, is not a cathedral. If you want to end up with a cathedral, you have to start with that global vision in mind, and “design down” from there.” —Dr. William Spady

The June 16 uprising displayed the power of unity amongst the youth in 1976, not only where their cries heard but the government eventually took action and today we have a better education system. Although the plenty gaps left to fill, there has been a vast improvement in black skilled labour, the level of education provided by institutions and equality.

The march was meant to be a peaceful one lobbying against the quality of education and Afrikaans as the medium for all subjects. My mother was in high school at the time and recalls that most teachers did not even know Afrikaans, so how could they teach a subject like accounting or mathematics in Afrikaans?

After 1994, the newly elected government had to create an educational system that would not discriminate or segregate communities in the quality of education. The ANC developed a document, ‘A policy Framework for Education and Training’ (1994), which was to give direction to a new education system.

Among other goals it was aimed at providing lifelong learning to all South African individuals and creating national reconstruction and development that would result in societal, cultural, economical and empowerment of all South African citizens. The document resulted in Outcomes Based Education, taking effect for the first time in 1998.

The OBE system was created to bridge the gap between what you are taught and how you implement in real life or the work environment. With it being a more practical and hands on system of learning, it was a of solution to the challenges that South Africa was facing after apartheid, which was bridging the gap between black/coloured kids, who had a lesser quality of education during the Apartheid Era and white kids, who were better off in terms of their schooling and the facilities that they had in school.

I was introduced to OBE in grade 6, which was in 1999, back then it wasn’t implemented until grade 12 but until grade 9. In grade 10, I met a girl who couldn’t use a dictionary, a boy that couldn’t read in English at all and many other things, like kids in my class didn’t know a single accounting formula and this is where I saw that the gap made by apartheid was one that was hard to bridge. I began to question the system of learning.

I can safely say that I was at an advantage because of the eleven different schools I had been to – from public schools to private schools and run down fly by night schools. By the time I reached grade 12, which was in a township school, only 7 of us passed out of a class of 33 pupils. This was four years ago in 2005, four years later I am still in contact with three of my friends that I passed with and all three are pretty close to graduating from university.

How effective is OBE? Where do we begin the blame game with a 21% pass rate? What sort of action can be taken? Clearly so-called ‘white schools’ are still getting the better piece of the pie, where one or two kids fail and in order for so-called black schools to make such a beautiful pass rate, extra measures are put into place.

This is a question I have always had and some of my mother’s words about education while we were growing up were that June 16 is a day to remember, many children died so that I could get a good education today. ‘That accent of yours didn’t come from nowhere,’ she’d say, ‘people fought to be as equal as their white counterparts.’

What resulted in unrests in schooling system that year were pressures coming from black and coloured communities. The result of an inferior education was that not enough skills were being provided to business sector and its failure to prepare black and coloured individuals for the technological world. Educators, on the other hand, were concerned about the quality and relevance of the curriculum they were instructed to teach. The form of education they were receiving was designed for blacks and coloureds, as an ‘inferior’ race to provide hard labour services (farming, mining, home economics, etc.) to white people.

In order to develop children in school into healthy, informed and contributing adults, the education system should be designed to develop high level competency amongst pupils in school and this is all from disconnected subjects, facts and skills developed while learning. This is all according to Dr. William Spady, an expert in OBE, he further adds that all of this is determined by your ultimate outcomes. Many have argued that this system of learning is not effective for South African pupils and that it should be seen as transitional rather than a transformation in the education system.

June 16, 1976 is a day to remember until this day, not only for the youth but it also a reflection of the student-teacher relationship and how much they have in common. June 16 was a day of unity and remembering it and commemorating its heroes also means that, we as the students/pupils and teachers need to ensure that a quality education is maintained.

Sources:

It’s Time to End the Decade of Confusion about OBE in South Africa by Dr. William Spady

OBE in Further Education and Training (FET) Institutions in Gauteng by Mziwakhe Ramos Sibuqashe.