There is hardly a day that goes by without the word ‘education’ coming up somewhere. Everybody agrees that education is important, but what I detect is that virtually nobody asks what education actually is.
That question is most important. Many people just assume that, if a person goes to school and stays there long enough, a magic key then opens doors. It does not. We have to ask the important question: What is education?
Well, let me give you my take on this. Education is that commodity that enables a person to earn a living and to make his or her way in life.
So, why not add to local education and provide a course in how to build an Eskimo igloo from compacted snow and ice? Why do the igloos have that little tunnel at the entrance? How do they make a fire inside? I know some of these answers because I have read up on the subject. It is rather interesting. So, let us include igloo building in the South African curriculum.
I can hear the roar of people saying: “Why study igloo building when we don’t have ice and snow in South Africa?”
That adds another dimension to the question: What is education for South African learners? So, we add that it should be relevant to earning a living here – under our circumstances.
That then implies that a person could be better off leaving school with a Grade 8 qualification but to then become a competent plumber, bricklayer or carpenter rather than getting matric passes in history and biblical studies.
I have heard endless comments about the decolonisation of education. What does that mean? How does that help a person find a productive job that provides him or her with an income?
Let us ‘unpack’ this, as it is said in some business language. Along with this goes the line that we do not need to teach children William Shakespeare. All the comment that I have heard about this is: Why must we teach our children British literature?
That is not the point; the point is that Shakespeare, and certain poems, teach children to carry out mental analysis. It is this mental analysis that is part of the reason why we teach Shakespeare. Such analysis helps with maths and science.
Another reason for learning Shakespeare is that it is so universally known. We want South Africans to be able to travel the world and be able to hold their own in conversations with foreign executives. Terms like ‘I want my pound of flesh’ come from Shakespeare. Concepts behind the plays Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, King Lear and more came from Shakespeare and are used in business. Imagine being at a high-level meeting overseas and some foreigner says: “Wherefore art thou, Romeo”, and the South Africans in the group have no idea what is being implied. The modern play and movie, West Side Story, is an adaption of Romeo and Juliet.
So, Shakespeare and related poems are not taught just to hear the story; they are taught for serious educational reasons, which must not be overlooked.
I studied history at school. I continue to read history items and watch history on TV. History contains deep psychology. History is not just a sequence of things that happened. History contains the reasons behind happenings, some relate to famine or to the discovery of new technology. The discovery of gunpowder changed the balance of power.
When I was at school, I was taught that, in KwaZulu-Natal, in the 1800s, there was a Zulu rebellion against the British and that the British had to squash the rebellion. Later reading has shown me that was not true. It was the British who betrayed the Zulus and it was the British who deliberately engineered the Boer War. That, in turn, led South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts to be the leading figure in developing the United Nations (UN). He gave the opening speech at the founding of the UN.
Certainly, history must be corrected in the school curriculum where it is wrong, but it must not be used as a vehicle to replace one false piece of propaganda with a new false one.
The school curriculum should be designed to provide tools for learners to earn a living. It should not be an emotive football to see whose propaganda wins.