An Equal Education for All
By Amy Gatland
On a bright sunny morning on a leafy green street in the Southern suburbs of Cape Town, two little girls hop out of a car and run through the gates of their school, hand in hand. They are Margaret and Abby and they are best friends. They do not have the same colour skin or the same colour hair or eyes but they wear the same blue school dress. They have the same backpack and the same little blue sun hat on their head. That morning they will sing the same school song, spend the day learning in the same grade 2 classroom, from the same teacher and at lunch time they will enjoy the same nutritious food packed lovingly into their matching lunch boxes.
But in reality Margret and Abby, when not at school, are worlds apart. Margret’s mother works for Abby’s parents. She cleans their house. She lives in a one roomed house in Gugulethu and cannot read or write. But she is loved and seen as part of the family and so Abby’s parents decided that they wanted her daughter, Margret, to have the same opportunities as their own daughter and so they pay for her to attend the same school and make sure she has everything she needs. This is a true story.
Recently South Africa was rated 127th out of 142 countries with regards to the quality of its primary education (Global Competitiveness Report 2011/12). This may surprise you; after all, you could probably rattle off a list of really good schools in the town or city you are from. You most likely attended one of them. But the sad reality is that those schools only serve to educate a small percentage of children in our country. The South African government like to talk about “equal education for all” but we are a far cry from that ideal.
Recently a local Cape Town school sent out a letter stating that it would now be compulsory for children starting grade one to own an iPad. This, while less than 20km away children sit four in a desk and arrive at school barefoot in the middle of winter. As Christ-followers, this should not sit well with us. Our hearts should break at the thought of literally thousands of school children in our country arriving at school hungry to be taught in a dull cold classroom with a few outdated textbooks by an uninspired and underpaid teacher who is out numbered 1 to 40. While others enjoy education aided by Smart boards, desks full of new stationary every year, lunch boxes full of more food than they can eat and countless extra mural activities to help them develop and grow.
Education is the key to ending poverty. Without a good education a child has less chance at a better life. The story of Abby and Margret is a beautiful picture of two people realising how crucial education is to a child’s future. This act of selfless kindness is Christ-like and beautiful. If only we could see more of this in our city. More people doing something to ensure a good education for ALL children.
This does not mean adopting a Robin Hood mentality of “take from the rich and give to the poor”. It would look something like this: parents would take into consideration how inclusive the school is that they would like to send their child to. They would ask themselves, ‘Does the school have scholarship programs? Does the school partner and share resources with an underprivileged school? What kind of perception of society and values will the school reflect to my child?’
This would hopefully put pressure on schools to think further than their own gates. Individuals can help too by getting involved in literacy programs or donating to organisations that help schools get the resources that they need. Perhaps there is a child in your sphere of influence who needs stationary, books or a new school uniform? The challenge is big, the inequality is vast but we are not powerless to cause change. We need only to collectively do out little bit. Let us follow after our Father’s heart, and want the best for each and every child.
About the author
Amy is a qualified primary school teacher who has taught Grade 4 at a well-known all-girls school in Cape Town. She did her teaching practical at a primary school in Gugulethu in 2007, and recently volunteered her teaching services at a school for children with learning disabilities while living in Nairobi, Kenya. She currently lives in Cape Town with her husband.