My parents spent a small fortune sending me to an excellent school in South Africa; but, the majority of school children back home attend state schools with little or no resources. One of my closest friends, Miss J, has spent this year teaching in a primary school in Soweto, Johannesburg. Everyday she shares her struggles of having to teach in classrooms which don’t have enough chairs, in a school where the text books arrived halfway through the year, in an environment where only one other teacher knows how to use a computer, and about finding store rooms fill of unused teaching equipment because the other teachers have not been trained to use it.
The injustice of educational inequalities between those who can afford private tuition and those who are left to squeeze into overcrowded township schools has weighed on my mind since my first year at university when I got to see this discrepancy first hand through some debating coaching I did in the Cape Flats.
Today, I realised just how far this inequality reaches.
I am working in a state-funded school in central London. The school gets no more funding than other inner-city schools apart from the small grants they receive from their associated Catholic Church. In every classroom there is a computer linked to a projector and a smartboard, all writing books and stationary is provided for the students, and there are drawers full of calculators, mini-whiteboards, art aids, and a thousand other things I couldn’t imagine a class of 8-year olds ever needing. In our RE (Religious Education) class today, the teacher was able to read the bible verse from her online bible, show a short clip of the verse through YouTube, and conduct the rest of the lesson through powerpoint slides on the smartboard. This morning when I took the lower achiever group outside for some private study, they each brought along their whiteboards to write practice sentences on for me to check. At break, when London was doing what London does best (i.e. raining), all I had to do was put a DVD of Mr Bean on and the entire class was entertained for the 30 minutes they normally run around outside.
The children that I am teaching have no idea of the extreme privilege that they have, no idea that halfway across the world there is a class of students being taught by my friend, Miss J, who has to fight just to use an overhead projector for her lessons. They have no idea… and why should they? It is not the fault of my students or Miss J’s, that some of them have and some of them don’t; but it sure makes me question why we are letting this massive injustice continue uncorrected. The reality is what happens to the youth in my country today is going to affect the future of the youth in yours, and this should be inspiring us to act. Not all students need classrooms linked to on demand internet; they don’t even need personal computers, but all students have the right – no matter their nationality – to have a school environment which provides them with pencils, books, and the equipment to learn.
Click here to follow Miss J’s blog about her teaching experiences in Soweto.