Education is under dire threat


Years ago, I watched two movies depicting the challenges and struggles of the American education system.

One of them starred Samuel L Jackson, in the movie 187.

It told the story of a high school teacher in New York City, Mr Garfield, who returns to work 15 months after being stabbed nine times by a student as a high school teacher.

He refuses to be a victim anymore, and so the audience is left enthralled as the tension between the teacher and learners escalate.

It is a classic case of a teacher wanting to see education triumph at all cost, all the while dealing with his own demons.

187 also presented the challenges the youth faced in America, including dealing with violent gang life, unemployment and finding one’s identity in a harsh social climate.

As the audience, you were left having sympathy for both parties – the learners who were forced into a survivalist mode of operation while the teacher was battling to carve out a better future for them.

The other interesting movie was Dangerous Minds, featuring Michelle Pfeiffer. It tells the story of an ex-Marine turned teacher and her struggles to connect with her students in an inner city school.

So also had to deal with learners struggling with issues of poverty, an unstable family life and a deepening sense of hopelessness.

The turmoil of emotions as depicted in Dangerous Minds would then often manifest in violent confrontation, leaving the teacher to fall back on her military skills to survive all the while trying to uphold the value of a good education.

The message of both movies remains simple – with education one can rise above the obstacles of life and that violence is not and has never been the answer to succeed.

As we fast forward to 2019, it seems the South African education system is faced with similar struggles as reflected in 187 and Dangerous Minds.

Time after time we are seeing violent conflict played out in classrooms between a teacher and a learner(s).

In a latest incident, an investigation has been launched regarding a teacher slapping a learner through the face.

Sure, such action cannot be condoned, but then you have to watch the footage. The learner deliberately provoked the teacher, even shoving a table at her, which led to the escalation of violence.

And such scenes have become common in our schools, where teachers are threatened and where teachers are retaliating, just as in 187 and Dangerous Minds.

Back in 1980s, the teacher had the right to discipline, but such times are now over in the supposed name of human rights.

What we are seeing is increasingly ill-discipline among learners, and clearly, the boundaries of authority have become blurred.

As with the teachers in 187 and Dangerous Minds, in some schools educators, it seems, are under threat to perform their duties.

And this is worrying since knowledge is the key to a thriving nation and for the youth to taste success.

As in America, in South Africa, we also sit with youth facing unemployment, the allure of crime, poverty, and a sense of hopelessness in times where society itself has become lawless and barbaric.

This concoction breeds disorder, chaos and anarchy, which is exactly what is happening in schools, where, by the way, bullying is also rife.

It is after all not just violence between learners and teachers, but just as disconcerting is the levels of violence among learners, which even has led to death.

The similarities what we are therefore seeing in our schools compared to what was depicted in those two movies are frightfully similar.

It leaves one with a deep sense of unease, for you wonder if education will indeed triumph.

What then will be needed? Teachers with a military background?

We should take stock of what is happening, for if education as a cornerstone of democracy and the future of the youth crumbles, then the entire house of sense and sensibility also collapses.


Written by Loknath Das