MANY THEORISTS have gone on record indicating that our education system is essentially geared towards the perpetuation of a society that is dominated by elites, where exploitation of the underclass is the ultimate objective. This is a most anti-democratic arrangement that goes against the principles of social justice and fairness.
Rather than closing the socio-economic differentials and gaps of inequity via the production of school graduates that can serve as agents of social transformation, our current configuration of schooling does exactly the opposite – perpetuates marginalisation and disenfranchisement. This is the outcome of a model that is essentially geared toward the production of obedient “workers” rather than good decent human beings who are critical and innovative thinkers.
Our capitalist-centred job market does not desire graduates of such ilk – critical thinkers who can assume a role as social change agents. Such a development will obviously threaten to alter the balance of power and the distribution of wealth. If education’s purpose was redefined to focus on the development of human capacity to transform society’s power structure, it will undermine the dominance of certain capitalist forces.
In such a society, inequity will not be a hindrance to accessing quality educational opportunities and all children will thus be given a real chance of success. Such a society will then be characterised by empowerment and the enlargement of choices.
Unfortunately, the various incarnations of capitalism have not only collaborated to ensure that the class differential remains intact, they have convinced the very oppressed that this state of resource disequilibrium is in their best interest – hence the slavish adherence to and belief in the retention of a colonial, elitist education model.
The facade of religion has unfortunately become a chief protagonist in this calculated game of power and control. But despite these realities, the proletariat must continue to strive for the dismantling of these entrenched power imbalances through the provision of educational opportunity that is characterised by equity and fairness. Teachers cannot escape this responsibility.
Equitable education not only ensures that all are given the means to blossom to their full potential, but that it will prepare citizens to meaningfully engage in the democratic process, having an equal claim to the fruits of subsequent economic activity. Equity demands that there are improved opportunities for those with the least. Because of their diminished social capital, such people must be given some priority owing to their limited opportunity as well as limits of opportunity.
It is well known that in both the primary and secondary levels of schooling, the socially advantaged have over the years seen the need to cement their superior positions in the social hierarchy through extra resources such as private lessons.
But to what extent can the disadvantaged child enhance his/her competitive status, given their social and economic deficits? Democratic principles dictate that the State recognises its duty and responsibility to step in and remove those impediments to opportunity, because all students have the potential to positively transform the society.
Whether affirmative action or compensatory education, the socially challenged student must be given a fighting chance to catch up and reach the starting line, so that the achievement race is truly one of equal opportunity from the start. Failure to do this will continue to give more of the same – a large sector of marginalised angry people who are devoid of hope, who see no value in the pursuit of education. For them the race will never be completed. Alternative pathways to social validation now become the option of pursuit. Inequity then prevents equal opportunity from producing equal results.
The recent protests must be seen from this perspective of social deficits and an honest leadership must acknowledge the link. These acts of social rebellion are triggered at the drop of a hat, since marginalised people are angry at their core of helplessness. Though opportunities abound, they are unable and even reluctant to harness these opportunities to enhance their socio-economic status. They are unable to expand their choices, opting to descend into an unproductive dependent state of victimhood, convinced that the proverbial cards are stacked against them.
Though extreme in their expressions their message is a sober reminder of the need to engage in fundamental education reform. Large segments of the population cannot be certified as failures on an annual basis. Teaching social responsibility must assume prominence at all levels. Platitudes and political dependency via calculated charity created this imbalance. Maintaining the education status quo only guarantees more of these social uprisings.