A few weeks ago I caught sight of a tweet from the Department of Basic Education mentioning an ASIDI that had built schools and was handing over one a week to the communities since July. I excitedly and enthusiastically broadcast the tweet to my followers and hailed ASIDI for a job well done. I also asked for more information on the project, which was forwarded to my mailbox. ASIDI is a Department of Basic Education commissioned NGO, the acronym stands for Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Development Initiative.
In the storm surrounding education in the country I might have missed mention of this initiative. And the din has been loud indeed. The state of education in our beloved SA has been a candidate for the ICU for a while now. There were a lot of mistakes made in a bid to revolutionize an education system that rendered the poor black child a hewer of wood, Bantu Education. Government would soon learn what it must learn for all its other departments, that every country is unique because each one’s struggles are unique, therefore the solutions have to be tailor made for each. I must admit it was with the concern of how tailor made these solutions were that my Black Education Tour initiative was born in 2011.
I found that a lot to do with education was right, on paper. For every question I had there was a quick answer that made sense. Just like our constitution that does not seem to work so well in practice, those whom it employs were failing our education system. Or so the officials said. In my travels I would find that the education system had done its part to alienate people, it was too posh without polishing up on the education of its handlers. I will not even go into the issue of infrastructure. Though it cannot be said that the government is not trying, there seems to be a lack of will to push aggressively for change – Lackluster and half measures. I found that the problems were much more complex than the media was letting on. The big elephant in the room is apartheid. Apartheid that had forced ordinary mothers and fathers to build mud huts to house their children so they could learn at least to be hewers of wood. Apparently the apartheid government went really hard on the Transkei in denying it even Bantu Education. That is why the majority of mud schools are found in that region. Yes the job of overturning the poverty masterminded by colonialism and perfected by apartheid is overwhelming, but I am still not happy with the government’s efforts. With challenges as huge as the ones we face with our education, playing the blame game is not effective, it is not constructive, and it can downright be unreasonable. Finding out about ASIDI really gave me hope. I will hold on to that hope, even as I recognize all the other challenges ASIDI does not address. It is an important step for our country because it puts quality first, for those most denied it historically. Imagine a mud school, deep in rural South Africa, where even water is a matter of hardship for most. Imagine that mud school transformed into a solid structure with all amenities necessary for the classroom. It stands like a castle amidst the poverty. The community is joyous, they fawn and gush over the science lab with the little taps to open and close the gas. They marvel at the little toys and paintbrushes for the little ones in Grade R. There is a play area with swings and slides outside their classroom. In another classroom the Grade 3s are hunched over laptops. I am moved to tears.
Still the community waits for the Department of Public Works to give the school running water. A lot of these nice looking water taps around the schools are dry because there can only be so many rain water tanks for one school, and this one has about 4. There are no sporting fields or any recreational facilities.
But quality learning is guaranteed in the classroom. And the principal has a maintenance plan to keep it that way. The department has handed over the school to the community that fought so hard for it. Let us applaud Minister Angie Motshekga and her team on this one. Let us monitor them to make sure they keep at it. When it comes to ASIDI, they are on the right track, and it is worth our while to encourage them to keep on track.
Article first published in Sowetan, 25 September 2013.