The Education ‘Struggle’ – A Struggle for Mediocrity

By Nduduzo Msibi:

“If a man walks a thousand miles through a desert; barefoot, without food nor water, and finally arrives at a destination where he onlyfinds one serving of toxic food and poisonous water, his struggle is admirable and must be applauded; but whether that struggle was actually worthwhile is a different yet all too important question.”

With the outcome of the recent matric results having yielded a ‘high pass rate’- the highest since 1994, many an opinionated writer has, through formal methods (blogs, newspapers) and informal methods (social networks), expressed their view on this topic. The main sides are two-fold: “let’s celebrate the improvements in the pass rate; applaud the government, teachers and pupils” | “the pass rate is not high enough”- and thereafter the arguments are set out. Mostly, neither argument is focused on the actual quality of education being availed to pupils.

There are those who suggest celebrating- likely made up of people who are aligned with the government as well as people who simply appreciate the ‘struggle’ some students go through. Well, really? Perhaps a party should be hosted in celebration of such ‘worthwhile’ achievements. Of course, the party would have to be mediocre and filled with toxic food and poisonous drinks. On the other hand, some of those who cry about the results not being good enough are basically protesting for more toxic food (more matriculants to ‘make it’ through the ‘struggle’). Undoubtedly, there are those whose cries for improvements are cries worth hearing – cries for structural improvements. Also, there are those whose calls for celebrations can be understood- like celebrating the achievement of seven distinctions by a resource-deprived and underexposed rural pupil. Those students, and teachers of course, who have tried to reduce the toxicity of the said ‘food’ deserve congratulatory remarks.

It is important to put events into perspective, and judge them thusly. Truth be told, the current education being offered in public schools is not worth any major struggle. That is not say that pupils must boycott schools, but it is to contextualise their achievements – what they are struggling for; particularly those who fight to achieve the minimum pass mark. Also, it is not to reduce the achievements of the students who made it through difficult times; but it is questioning whether that student’s ‘struggle’ was worthwhile.

Struggling, experiencing and making it through tough times are an important part of life. It builds character, tests the limit of the human spirit- allows a human being to elevate to greater and even unthinkable heights. However, if that struggle is for mediocre achievements, then it becomes less plausible. Any struggle should be directly proportional to the value of the outcome- not just the perceived value but the actual value. Sadly, much like how the man in the desert struggles through the torturous environment with the blind hope that he will reach a worthwhile destination- one with food to eat and water to drink but with no certainty whether such exists at  the destination- so the poor pupil struggles through their ‘miseducation’ and ‘undereducation’ with the hope of obtaining something worthwhile.

The saddest part of it all is that it is the poor whose present circumstances are already dire, who are yet still being prepared to live even less worthwhile lives. The poor are the ones on the receiving end of this mediocrity. A further problem is that, when you ‘miseducate’- or ‘undereducate’, if you will– you destroy a society for the next 50 or so years (just an estimate of how long the average person meaningfully influences the world, whether positively or negatively).

This ‘miseducation’ is actually a process of buying a ‘right to struggle further’. The struggle then becomes two-part; the student struggles through a struggling system, from where their obtained achievement opens doors to more struggling- in the form of trying to make something of the ‘qualification’. Being successful, or semi-successful, in a failing system causes for bittersweet celebrations. Failing in a failing system is a double disaster. This influx of matriculants into the streets of nowhere is not worth celebrating- it does not help the country’s development.

Of course, ideally, pupils should not face extreme struggles to get an education but, since the struggles already do exist, they must be worthwhile. With infrastructural development already lacking- which is what actually creates the struggling environment, ‘undereducating’ people is a double-blow to society.

The standard of education needs to be increased, and this needs to be done urgently. Even if this is at the expense of ‘nice-looking statistics’; one properly educated pupil is worth a lot more than ten undereducated yet ‘qualified’ pupils. If there are people struggling through life with post-graduate qualifications already obtained, what chance does a person with a mediocre matric have?

Nduduzo Msibi is the former Chairperson of the BMF Student Chapter in KZN and an M Com Maritime Studies student at UKZN. He writes in his own capacity.