Education for all? Stepping forward and paying it back

We all have an opinion about education. And we have all experienced the consequences of our education. Whether or not research confirms it, we know that the level of education one has access to often determines the opportunities available to them in life. Unless one is in a “first world” country, we know that for most people in “developing” countries access to education is still not guaranteed. Recently UNESCO released the Education for All Global Monitoring report showing that access to quality education is still a privilege for the few. The report may appear alarmist at first glance but it made me think seriously about education.

I will not belabour the statistics about the state of education as the general consensus seems to be that the poor majority in the world do not have access to education. The question is: do we let this continue and hope that there will be a small group of people who will step forward and become teachers, school reformers or researchers in the field of education?

The danger about writing about education is that when the numbers are dismal we often simply think of that—the numbers—rather than the faces of the people who represent those numbers. And the implications those numbers have for the future. Of course, education is not the panacea for the world’s problems but the world cannot change if education reform doesn’t happen on a large scale.

Around the same time the report was released I received a message from one of the Bokamoso contributors, Thoko, on Facebook: “I am currently a volunteer English teacher at a rural school in Mthatha. I teach a class of 105 grade 10 kids (in one classroom)”. I had a mixed reaction to the message. I responded in rage to his message but a part of me knew that his situation is the norm. And this is part of the challenge with education: it continues to remain unchanged.

People often ask me why I became a teacher. I was lucky enough to get the kind of education where if I wanted to, I could be whatever I wanted to be. I was exposed to knowledge and experiences which made me think that I could be what I wanted to be. In my idealism, I opted to be a teacher because I had hoped that I could be part of the experience of enabling children realise who they are and what they want to be. When I discovered that my education was not the norm, I began to wonder. And I continue to wonder every time I am in my classroom and teaching and learning are jeopardised by the outside world which places limitations upon my students. Whether it is in the form of a piece of paper or just knowledge buried away in our hearts, education is something that cannot be taken away from us, especially when one has had the best education possible. Sadly, for those who are not getting the best education, they will reap the limitations of the limited education they have received.

My hope for this theme is that we will be able to reflect on our educational experiences and how they have shaped who we are. There seems to be a dearth of good stories about education. There is no good report about education. What will our response be to this report?

Moreover, I hope we will ask ourselves questions about what our responsibility is to the world because of the education we have received. Those of us who write for this blog are the exception and not the rule: the norm is that people do not have enough access to quality education (and higher education is slipping away from people thanks to economic imbalances) but we have had that privilege. Are we going to maintain that privilege for the few? Or are we going to make the room for others the share the wealth we have because we can read and write and count and think critically about the world around us? Are we going to step forward and pay it back?

Athambile Masola

Athambile Masola is a teacher at Claremont High School. She has a Masters in Education from Rhodes University. She was previously named one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South Africans. She also writes for FeministsSa.com, the Mandela Rhodes Scholars Thought Leader page and on her blog: ixhantilam.

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