Private colleges mushroom – but where is education?


JOHANNESBURG - Being out of Zimbabwe, that cauldron where your head is continually pressured to draw you close to insanity; the vitriol that spews incessantly from the state

media making one feel as though the whole world is run by a bunch of sadists who draw pleasure from human suffering, has given me a breath of fresh air.

The ‘Rainbow nation’ has been described as being ‘Alive with possibilities’, and this belief is clearly reflected in the faces of its inhabitants as opposed to the gloom and despondence that envelops our colleagues at home. I am very much warmed by the optimism that I witness among the youth here. Only a decade ago they were given to toyi-toying and burning schools. Now they have taken to education like ducks to water.

But I feel so saddened by what I see as a gamble with these youngsters’ futures in some of the private schools that have mushroomed all over Jozi. The renewed optimism in the land has seen parents, who rightly believe only a sound education can lay a firm foundation for their children’s future, sending them to private colleges.

There is a general feeling that private colleges, found mostly in the city centre, offer better education. While there is a grain of truth in this general view, education in these private schools has been commercialized, with anyone who has money rushing to rent a building and set up a school. Most of these people have not the slightest knowledge of the art of teaching and learning. Their aim is to make as many quick bucks as possible, with total disregard as to whether there is any actual learning taking place.

Some schools are run by principals who have never gone through teacher training at all. In fact, anyone can be a principal in these schools, from a bricklayer to a mechanic as long as they are well connected to the directors. The result is chaos. Teachers are pushed into classrooms without any textbooks or teaching aids of any kind, let alone a syllabus to guide them.

I gather the directors of such schools are good at bribing officials from the Department of Education who are occasionally tasked with monitoring what goes on in these schools. Needless to say, parents pay school fees, but the schools are without adequate furniture and teachers go without pay. The schools receive government subsidies but these only go to line the pockets of directors, buy posh cars and build mansions in the suburbs. The schools are literally run like fiefdoms where the director’s word is law.

Society as a whole has a moral obligation to police how education is provided to the future generations. Failing to do so is a serious dereliction of duty and posterity may not judge us kindly. Are the relevant authorities aware of this chaotic situation? Do the parents feel their children are getting their money’s worth? – Khulumani Motsamai is a teacher by profession and the spokesperson of the South African chapter of the Progressive Teachers’ Union in Zimbabwe.

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