Pupils talk about concerns

Zandile Mbabela and Brett Adkins

BEING taught subjects like science and maths in their mother tongue and giving pupils more personal choice in what they should be learning sound like issues on the table at a high-level educators’ think-tank.

But these are our kids talking.

They were being given a platform for a change – and it was their chance for their voices to be heard.

And although they were somewhat reticent at first, Nelson Mandela Bay primary and high school pupils quickly became increasingly articulate as to what was ailing our beleaguered education system in the Eastern Cape – and how it could possibly be fixed.

The setting was the second in a more interactive internal series of The Herald NMMU community dialogues on education to be held this year at the university’s Missionvale campus – and the debate became as lively as that of the first.

On that occasion, last month, the suggestion was made by one of the participants that we ask pupils themselves to share their thoughts on the obstacles they felt were crippling their education. But also, to identify the strengths in the system – and how those could be used to address the crises at many schools.

And they told it like it is.

Asked by facilitator NMMU Education faculty dean ProfessorDenise Zinn what was not good about school, pupils delved into some of the things they had to endure every day. Desperate to be heard, they were not even intimidated by how some of the very teachers they were criticising, were present in the same room.

Zinn urged pupils to openly express their views. “Don’t worry about your grammar or anything – most importantly, we want to hear from you.”

Alexander Road Grade 12 pupil Keegan Crankshaw, 18, pointed out that the system forced pupils to learn subjects they possibly did not want to learn and that the current education model was old-fashioned and geared towards this “kind of factory process” of churning out one and the same. Khwezi Lomso Comprehensive School Grade 11 pupil Mihlali Bawuti, 17, said: “Education is being wasted by some of the young people taking drugs and falling pregnant.”

Khwezi Lomso’s Phumelela Zenani, 17, said pupils should be taught subjects like science and maths in their mother tongue. “They are not being taught in languages they understand – that’s why they’re failing.” Alexander Road Grade 12 pupil Robin February, 18, said good, capable teachers succeeded in developing a relationship with pupils.

“And if theachers can’t get through to a particular pupil, they should find someone who can.”

Qaphelani High School pupil Babalwa Lasi said there was no teacher-pupil confidentiality.

“Pupils go to teachers with their specific problems. But teachers don’t have the chest to keep the problems to themselves, making them a discussion topic in the staff room,” she said.

Other issues pupils raised included drug abuse, bullying, a lack of respect between teachers and pupils, absence of textbooks, a shortage of teachers and some of the more unacceptable conditions they had to live with like inadequate water supplies and dilapidated toilets “which led to infections”.

Bawuti said the only way she could deal with the problem of bullying was “to become a bully myself”.

What was interesting to hear was how some of the issues raised by the pupils echoed those spelt out by education caretakers in the previous dialogue – a lack of mutual respect, commitment from teachers and resources.

Alexander Road teacher Lucia Mtshake said a lack of discipline was one of the fundamental flaws in the system.

“Parents and educators must work together to resolve these issues,” she said.

Student teacher Zolani Ndzungu said 70% of teachers were lazy.

“That’s my own statistic by the way,” he quipped to laughter.

In the end, the air in the room seemed lighter. There appeared to be consensus that while there was a long way to go, by making their voices heard, the pupils in the room had undoubtedly found the ear of those teachers present who, in turn, thanked them for expressing the things that were troubling them.

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