Is South Africa fulfilling “right to free education for all’ right?

Education is a right equal to health and housing which has to be made available to everyone, wrote Dylan Haskins, because “an educated workforce is the key to rebuilding our economy”. But what about who choose not to be education?

Haskins believes that the “only way to foster an equal third level education system is through universal free education” and by this he means “removing the prohibitive fees and replacing them with a real registration fee that solely coverers the annual registration costs”.

In my area of work and as mentioned elsewhere, I have often come across young people, mostly males, who have either dropped out of primary or high school by choice or due to family circumstances. The number of those who claim to have dropped out of school due to the latter far exceeds that of those who have done so due to the former. The bad thing about this, and admitting that this may be out of control of others, is when those that have completed their middle or primary high schooling can hardly express themselves in basic English. Of course by this and unlike Higher Education minister Blade Nzimande who wants to make it a pre-requisite requirement for university/college graduation, I am not saying they are to speak like the Models Cs kind of pupils but that an expectation is that one should be able to express oneself in that language, at least. But, and as statistics and research of our education crisis have shown, that is not the case.

There are about 75 million children who do not have access to basic education, according to Right to Education, with also about 150 million children currently enrolled in the schooling system likely to drop-out before completing primary education and with at least two-thirds of which girls. Right to Education campaign said that about 776 million adults in the world were “illiterate and never got an education”. According Right to Education campaign, a right to education “means that all these people have been discriminated against and their rights have been violated”. “The right to education means that these rights-holders can stand up and that something can be done”. The campaign said a “right to education means that governments and the international community can be held accountable”.

The South African Bill of Rights clearly states that a right to education is a human right which is the same as “natural rights” and belong to the people “just because they are human beings.” This means people are entitled to them regardless of where they live in the world or of their position in society. The Bill does not discriminate against one’s race, sex, age, class, language, beliefs, culture or religion is or “how much money or education a person has”, but that it is inclusive of all these and many other “natural rights” as they are consistent with international and Universal Declaration of Human Rights which many, if not all countries, have subscribed to irrespective of their social, political and economic circumstances. The bill is also consistent with the country’s Constitution.

Quoting from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Wikipedia indicates that not only does the document make a right to education provision but that it makes it “compulsory” at a primary level “for all”. The document further not only makes it an “obligation to develop secondary education accessible to all in particular by the progressive introduction of free secondary education” but that provisions for “equitable access to higher education in particular by the progressive introduction of free higher education” should be made. In addition, it demands provision be made to “eliminate discrimination at all levels of the educational system, to set minimum standards and to improve quality”.

According to Article 13 of the document all signatory member states to the document, South African included, “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Member states further “agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”

In order to realize this right, education will not only be “compulsory and free to all” but that:

  • Secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational secondary education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;
  • Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;
  • Fundamental education shall be encouraged or intensified as far as possible for those persons who have not received or completed the whole period of their primary education;
  • The development of a system of schools at all levels shall be actively pursued, an adequate fellowship system shall be established, and the material conditions of teaching staff shall be continuously improved.

Further, a 4 As model of assessment (Availability, Accessibility, Acceptability and Adaptability) should be adopted to achieve this. In South Africa and many parts of the African continent, this “human and natural right” has sometimes proved difficult to achieve despite many documental declarations the members states had set to uphold and achieve. These, amongst others, include the Millennium Development Goals which South Africa has set itself to achieve.

Writing in the Jamaica Observer newspaper in March this year, Franklin Knight said that education has two “interrelated purposes”. Knight said the first was to “develop technical competencies needed for any individual to improve his or her condition largely through individual efforts”. This process, said Knight, is achieved through a “combination of formal instruction accompanied by self-directed improvement deriving from one’s innate abilities”. On the second, knight said “an organised system of education is to inculcate desirable traits of civility and citizenship that constitute the hallmarks of any good society”. He went on to say: “no educational system can afford to fail in either of these two purposes”.

It is, however, worth mentioning that Knight was making reference at the time to the current education system in Jamaica which he said was failing to “meet the required efficacy when measured by these two purposes”. Knight said many schools in Jamaica appeared to “fall short of developing basic technical skills in literacy, logical thinking and competent elementary calculations among a broad spectrum of students”. He said “some” schools even fail to “graduate scholars who are civil, altruistic, and sensitive to the essential needs of their communities”. This, need I add, is also the case in South African.

“Nevertheless”, wrote Knight in the Jamaica Observer newspaper, “it is far too soon to describe either the educational system as a failure or Jamaica as a failed state”. He said there was still “much that works well at present in the educational system”, that although the country was “severely challenged”, it however, “has not yet categorically failed”.

Knight advised that the country’s pre-school, primary, secondary and university needed to be “integrated more efficaciously in order to assure every Jamaican child the best possible opportunity for continuous intellectual growth and hands-on community engagement”.

He said from the age or four, “each child should not only be exposed to certain age-appropriate skills but also to a milieu of proper socialisation where the individual becomes increasingly aware of being a responsible part of a wider community”. Knight advised that at pre-school level, the “focus could be on tolerance”, and while on primary level an “emphasis (should) be placed on service”, and that at a high school level students “should begin to demonstrate leadership, responsibility and accountability”. And for those in Colleges and universities, they should be able to “hone their individual skills to the service of the individual, the community, the nation and the wider world. That is the sort of system that works,” said Knight.

The Bill makes it a duty of the citizens of the country to send all their children to school while the duty of the state is to build enough schools and provide enough teachers so that everyone can go to school and get a proper education. Is this the case?

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