Friday 4 October 2013

'Give Education Privacy it Needs'

Education has been a key theme of our Provincial Synod. Bishop Peter Lee of the Diocese of Christ the King heads ABESA, the Anglican Board of Education for Southern Africa. Today he has the following letter printed in the Mail and Guardian:

Mail and Guardian, Letters to the Editor, October 4 to 10 2013

Give education privacy it needs

In their article “Privatisation vs the public good” (September 27)Salim Vally and Enver Motala rightly cite section 29 (1) of the Bill of Rights – “Everyone has the right to a basic education” – but appear to overlook 29 (3), which says “Everyone has the right to establish and maintain, at their own expense, independent educational institutions” (subject to certain conditions).

Anyone who studied for an HDipEd or equivalent in the 1970s would hear, in Vally and Motale’s article, an echo of the old case for comprehensive schools in the UK – plausible in theory but long ago abandoned, for entirely educational reasons, in favour of a more diversified and workable system.

Of course they are right to challenge the commodification and commercialisation of education; that understanding of ‘privatisation’ is hardly what the drafters of the Bill of Rights had in mind.

The education department is right to chase the sleazy pavement academies out of business. But it is a cheap shot to lump together “high-cost or low-cost private schooling” and state that these are all punted as “the solution to the problems of education systems”. There is a huge difference.

Most low-cost operations are costly non-profit experiments run by NGOs, churches or civil society groupings. They are not run as “the solution” but as one part of a mix which may be of help, both in adding to the stock of functional school places, and as possible upliftment models. These operations can demonstrate “another way” both academically and in other dimensions, of what schools might be in our struggling society.

The problem is that sometimes, and in some settings, independent models – and not just the elite ones – become educational lighthouses which show up the inadequacy of local public schools, and are then resented; hence the current efforts to “dumb down” independent education to the level of the lowest.

This is not about tooling up artisans to provide fodder for capitalist employers; it is about the right of our child citizens to an education adequate for survival in the global village.

And it is about having some respect for those child citizens in their own right – the very thing Bantu Education set out to destroy and which we have yet to set in place in our democracy.

Of course it would be ideal if the public schools were good enough to render independent education superfluous; that is why there are no independent schools in Canada.

But until the public system can fulfil its constitutional obligations to the great majority of our child citizens, we should all be bending our efforts to achieve that, rather than chipping at those entities that are already delivering this basic right to the children and their families – not for profit but for the common good.

We need a collaborative approach, not a hard-edged one.

Peter Lee, Anglican Board of Education for Southern Africa