The Student Prince

In South Africa these days it is rare that one receives positive feedback or a quick response to queries laid at the door of those deemed qualified to answer them. Nevertheless, I received the following remark from the lecturer who marked my final essays for the course Advanced Theory of Drama which has in the past been regarded as the “Cinderella of Languages and Literature and Theory of Literature Studies”;

“Many thanks for your attentiveness and congratulations on all the work you have done on this module. Good luck for all your exam results.”

Perhaps it is premature of me to be overly anxious. Did I pass my exams, or not? It is just over two weeks ago that I wrote my final exam for the Bachelor of Arts in Theory of Literature. That was Theory of the Sign. Walking to the bus stop for my journey back home, I was already computing worst case scenario’s such as “what if I didn’t pass?” or “what if I made the cut for an exam re-write?” Generally, I struggle.

Historically, if I had done well on my essays and papers, it reflected some progress and also carried me through the exams which in our case is a two hour session. Those who know me personally also know that I can be notoriously slow. Which means that I generally struggle to write everything I would have liked over a two hour period. When the bell rings, I am usually still writing.

I could not help noticing how many fellow-students left the exam room early, long before the bell. That, unfortunately, is a reflection of not knowing enough, or not doing enough to pass the exam. I also noticed, and I have often remarked on this, that the number of students, here, in the exam room, in Cape Town, South Africa, are dwindling. There are a number of reasons for this.

Many South African students simply just cannot afford to pay the fees to attend University. Of those who have been fortunate enough to make the cut, many are ill-equipped for the rigorous, but invigorating process of university life and work. Sadly, there are reasons for this too, which have little to do with the students’ talents and promise.

By the by, in South Africa, high school students are referred to as “learners”. When I was still at high school, we were referred to as pupils. And those who were fortunate enough were taught by teachers. Today, in South Africa, there are very few teachers, let alone university professors, or at least, not enough to cater for the growing number of high school students graduating. They are merely referred to as “facilitators.”

On the political front, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) took a “democratic decision” to expel the renegade National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa, led by the likeable Irvin Jim. Well, in spite of differing with him ideologically, I like him. Well, at least until he forms his own labour party and officially aligns his movement with Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters who disrupted university business and lectures on my campus as far back as 2013.

COSATU are in an unholy alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the ruling African National Congress (ANC). The SACP is led by Dr Blade Nzimande who also serves as Minister of Higher Education in Jacob Zuma’s cabinet. The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) has officially supported the Central Executive Committee’s (of COSATU) decision to expel Jim and NUMSA. I am happy that this union has finally started to break up, because I truly believe that they do not represent the interests of its members.

I also believe that SADTU do not have the interests of the thousands of children and young adults at heart when they take decisions at their committee meetings. Last month, at their annual congress, they unanimously took decisions which go against the interests of students in South Africa. They went against a formal initiative to be evaluated and monitored and thus improve their poor teaching skills. They also voted against the government’s initiative to have teaching declared an “essential service” (which would have curbed their absence from classes while on strike).

When, not if, they go on strike once more, possibly during 2015 when thousands of public sector members “down tools”, they will essentially be striking for salary increases and benefits which over 25% of the South African population do not have access to because they are unemployed. One of the critical reasons why these good people are unemployed is because they do not have the skills to equip themselves in the formal job market. Such skills were not made available to them when they were at school, because their “facilitators” took decisions as union members which went against the grain of better teaching and all the benefits that come with  it.

That the government under Nzimande and Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, is also not properly acting in the interests of the children of South Africa, is not the subject of this post, but is well-known to many South Africans from all walks of life.

Years ago, I had a childish dream of becoming a school teacher. Today, I ask myself whether it is possible for me to realise such a dream. Well, perhaps I need to wait patiently for my final results and see whether I have taken another positive step towards that dream. I need to keep my head held high and hold my breath and not fear the worst for now. Either way, I have been blessed with an education.

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