South African Education
The children at St. Vincent’s Orphanage in Mariannhill, South Africa returned to school this week with the suspension of their county’s nearly three-week long public sector strike. For 20 days, schools and hospitals locked their doors as union members protested for higher wages and greater housing subsidies. I spoke with Sr. Immaculate, the director of St. Vincent’s, during the strike to learn of its impact on students at this home for vulnerable children.
A beneficiary of South Africa’s public institutions herself, Sr. Immaculate acknowledged the need for increased government spending on social services for the country’s impoverished masses. The higher salaries that the unions demanded were warranted in order to make these teaching positions more attractive to professional, fill the existing void of teachers, and ultimately raise the quality of education. With South Africa ranking fourth from the bottom in Newsweek magazine’s recent ranking of the world’s education systems, it seems that any strategy to decrease class size (the average class size in South Africa is 45 students per teacher), develop teachers’ capabilities, and ultimately improve educational quality is valid. Nevertheless, Sr. Immaculate admitted, achieving these goals through the loss of 20 days of school for children seems illogical, even criminal.
Such is the nuanced view of the public sector strike: the recognition of both the benefits gained from a union strike and the harm potentially incurred on schoolchildren in the process. Complicating the issue is the right to strike that indicates a healthy democracy, contrasted by the coercion to do so, a coercion backed by threats and actual events of violence and even death for crossing the picket line.
After such a prolonged strike, it’s easy to debate who to blame for the missed days of school: the government? The unions? The teachers themselves? But such a discussion of blame centers the debate on the right to strike and the right to fair wages. These are crucial rights, undoubtedly, but they are secondary to one of the most basic rights of all – education.
Education is a human right that, when violated, becomes a matter of social injustice. It is the responsibility of government to correct such injustice through investments in infrastructure and human resources. It is the responsibility of teachers to correct this injustice through their time and personal commitment to their students. And it is the responsibility of each one of us – you, me, and all of our global society – to correct this injustice by promoting education as a fundamental social value. Whether it is through our time, our finances, our creative gifts, or our prayers, let us affirm the importance of education. The children of St. Vincent’s depend on it.
By Rachel Beggs
Article Source: ezinearticles.com