By The Colour Of Their Skin – How Your Skin Colour Affects Your Education

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The South African Education system has had a lot of curriculum changes over the past years and it has always bothered me as to why. School curriculums play an important role in the development of a society and the indoctrination of that society’s principles and values into the people who live in it so having the right curriculum can really build a society the same way that having a bad one can destroy it.

Since in this post I will be looking at how the curriculums have been set up to discriminate according to race and also checking if the current curriculum is any different from them, I am going to take some time to try and describe what a curriculum is. Using a very basic description one would define a curriculum as ‘a document drafted by curriculum experts appointed by the government, which they ought to follow and to a large extent not question.’ (To understand SA’s History Curriculum change in Democracy, lets first look at this change during Tra, 2015) but this view gives the state the power to impose their ideological beliefs on the masses and at the same time legitimise its power in governance, and because of this it is a very dangerous one, Carr (1998) says that a curriculum is more than the content or subject matter that is taught in schools, but also involves teaching methods, learning objectives, classroom organisation and assessment procedures. And He further argues that curriculum plays a significant role in social and political spheres of a society in inducting learners into the culture, practices and social relationships of their society.

Now that we have a bit of an understanding of what a curriculum is and what role it plays in the lives of those who both tech and receive the contents there of let us take a look at the history of the different types of curriculums we have had in the country and what their role and impact was on the citizens of the country.

History of the South African education system.

Missionary Education

With its colonial nature, the British Education system was set up for the main reason of spreading the “British language and traditions in the colony and also as a means of social control” (Christie, 1988). In all these colonies English was made the official language and the church, government offices and schools were all anglicised.

A quote of Sir George Grey, governor of the Cape in 1955, shows how the British education system was set up and what its main objectives were:

If we leave the natives beyond our boarder ignorant barbarians, they will remain a race of troublesome marauders. We should try to make them part of ourselves, with common faith and common interests, useful servants, consumers of our goods, contributors to our revenue. Therefore, I suppose that we make unremitting efforts to raise the natives in Christianity and civilization, by establishing among them missions connected with industrial schools. The native race beyond our boundary, influenced by our missionaries, instructed by our schools, benefitting by our trade would not make wars on our frontiers. (Global Literacies and the World Wide Web, 2000)

From this quote it is easy to deduce that from the beginning the British education system was designed in a way that will educate the native to become “useful servants”, consumers of other people’s goods and contributors to other people’s revenues which was in no way beneficiary to them and was thus designed to discriminate people according to their race and ethnic background.

Missionary education was one of the most effective ways that the British used to re-educate the natives and teach them values and traditions that were both foreign to them and worked against them, it had political intentions and “it was geared up to make the use of the Christian philosophy” (Vuyisile Msila, 2007). While the natives were being put through this Anglicized system, the Afrikaners were busy forming their own education system.

Afrikaner Nationalist Education and Apartheid

With its roots set up in the 1600s, the Afrikaner education system was still minimal during those times and by the 1800s it was still in the hands of the parents and the church. The Afrikaners decided to establish their own education system, which was based on Christian National Education (CNE), after the Anglo-Boer War between them and the British. They saw this fit because they believed that the British system of education alienated them from their own practices.

A basic explanation of the Apartheid education can be found in Article 15 of the CNE policy of 1948:

We believe that the calling and task of White South Africa with regard to the native is to Christianise him and help him on culturally, and that calling and task has already found its nearer focusing in the principles of trusteeship, no equality and segregation. We believe that any system of teaching and education of natives must be based on the same principle. In accordance with these principles we believe that the teaching and education of the native must be grounded in the lives and worldview of the White most especially those of Boer nation as senior White trustees of the native.

From this abstract it is easy to see how similar the use of politics and religion in both the Missionaries and the Education system set by the Afrikaners Nationalist is. The Apartheid education system was used to maintain the status quo and preserve the master-servant relationship between the Africans and the Whites. Besides being given the most resources, the curriculum in White schools in South Africa included various “educational programmes” in which White boys were taught and indoctrinated in “veld school”/ bush schools. Done on the pretext of nature studies, White learners in bush schools were taught how important it was to protect their land from others which therefore allowed them to keep their White privilege and power.

On the other hand Bantu Education was used as a tool to control the intellect of the Black teachers and their learners. Bantu Education was designed as a tool to ensure that Black people in South Africa would forever remain docile and in political and economic subordination, and it was used as a tool to protect White privilege and White power and rule. In giving Black learners teachers that were not fully trained, giving them less resources than their White counterparts and putting them in situations where it would be very hard for them to learn, the CNE policy ensured that African people would remain under the control of the White man and they would never be able to survive on their own.

The separation of the education system into Bush Schools and Bantu Education meant that the colour of your skin played a major role in determining the level of quality education you were going to receive and the darker you were the more the level decreased. It is because of these reasons that after the change in political power in 1994 our then leaders decided to change the curriculum to one that will play a pivotal role in the liberation of the minds of the many African people who suffered under the Apartheid rule.

The Post-Apartheid Education system.

The education system we’ve had post our liberation as a country has gone through a number of changes. Outcome Based Education was first introduced into the country around 1996 as the best solution for our education system. Because of its abstract terminology and poor and inadequate training of teachers by the department many schools struggled to implement it. The system was the simplified and the results were the 2002 Revised National Curriculum Statement (RNCS), which, according to some teachers, was much easier to implement because of the terminology changes. For OBE to succeed we need better educated teachers, well equipped classrooms and relatively small classes, a maximum of 25 learners per class according to an article written by Donna Cobban. Because of these prerequisites the system works better, or relatively well, in former model C schools. A majority of the people who are able to afford to take their children to such schools come from the middle class society, which comprised mostly of people with a European descend.

Then in 2012 Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) was introduced with Grades 1, 2, 3 & 10 being affected, “CAPS gives more detailed guidance with regards to what teachers need to teach and how they should assess. With CAPS each teacher in every subject should know what to teach, when to teach it, and how to do assessment. The terminology Learning Outcomes and Assessment Standards has gone and will be replaced with “Content” and “Skills”. At the Foundation Phase (Grades R, 1, 2 & 3) Numeracy will now be called Mathematics and Literacy will now be called Language. At Grade 10, content has been reorganized for several of the subjects and the exam structure has changed in some of the subjects.” (Anthea Variend, 2011).

What this meant was that teachers had to be retrained, new textbooks had to be bought and already struggling teachers had to change their way of doing things so that they could learn this new curriculum.

The reason we looked at what a curriculum is and how many times it has changed over the years and why is because I wanted us to understand how the curriculum, which plays the role of an inductor of culture into a society, can have different impacts on people purely based on the colour of their skin and what that colour represents. Because in this country the skin colour “Black” is still associated with townships, poverty and lack of access to resources, the quality of education that a Black child is going to receive from a curriculum that requires one to have access to resources that Black people don’t have access to is not going to be the same as the quality of education that a White child, who has access to those required resources, is going to receive from the same curriculum.

In order for a society to one day be seen as an equal one, and because of the massive role the curriculum plays in inducting learners into a culture, I believe that the school curriculum of that particular society must be set up in a way where no matter what skin colour you are and what that colour represents you will get an education of similar quality to everyone else.

Our education system might have changed a lot since the days of Missionary education but the fact that the poor still don’t receive the same quality of education as the rich is still the same. The reasons for why this happens might have taken a different form but at the core of it all is the need to keep those who are in need at the mercy of those who have the ability to give. Slavery is no longer a physical act where people come to the land of others and physically take them into captivity but it is now mental. The average African child does not believe that he can make it through university without the help of the government and we are taught to always expect things to be done for us while we have the capability to do s ourselves.

Dr Martin Luther King jnr said once that he had a dream that people will be judged based on the content of their character and not the colour of their skin but we still live in a society where the colour of your skin plays a bigger role in your life than the content of your character.


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