Thousands of students all over South Africa are staying away from school. They are unhappy about many things. Learn and Teach spoke to Lulu Johnson, president of the Congress of South African Students. We asked what is happening in the schools today.
Learn and Teach: Lulu, can you please tell us why so many students are staying away from school?
Lulu Johnson: There are two main reasons. Firstly, as you know, thousands of students didn’t go to school because they wanted to show their anger at last month’s elections – the elections for the new Indian and “coloured” parliaments. And secondly, the students are unhappy about many things at the schools.
Learn and Teach: Can you tell us why the students are unhappy at the schools?
Lulu Johnson: Well, the main reason is that students want SRCs at the school. They don’t like the system of prefects. Another problem is the way teachers beat students. Students want teachers to follow the rules – they must not give a student more than four strokes. And they must not do this in front of the class – they must do it in front of the principal. Many women students complain that men teachers give them problems. If the women don’t show some love to these teachers, the teachers often punish them.
Another very big problem is the high failure rate. In January, half the students failed matric. How can half the students fail matric? And then we hear stories about DET losing students examination papers. We hear stories about somebody failing – and then three months later, that person passes. There is funny business going on in DET.
And then we have the whole question of age limits. The government made this law in 1982. Students can’t do standard six if they are over 16 years old. They can’t do standard eight if they are over 18 years old. And they can’t do standard 10 if they are over 20 years old. Students feel this law is very unfair. Many students lost time in the troubles of 1976 and 1980. And many students come from poor families. These students need to work before they come to school.
Students are also unhappy about subjects and grades. Students can’t freely choose subjects and grades. If they force a student to do standard grade, that student will never get into university.
Students are also unhappy about the soldier-teachers in some schools. The army sends these soldiers to the schools. Some of these soldiers teach in uniform – and some of them even put their guns on the table in front of them. But let me say that the students don’t hate all these soldier-teachers. There are a few who care for the students.
Learn and Teach: Lulu, you spoke about SRCs earlier on. Why do students want SRCs instead of prefects?
Lulu Johnson: Students never know what is happening in their schools. And they never know what will happen. For example, suddenly teachers will tell students who play sport to pay R1 for transport. Or they will ask money for polish for the floor. Or they will say students can’t leave the school at break. Students are always told what to do – nobody ever asks them what they think.
Prefects don’t help or talk for the students. Prefects in our schools just work for the administration. The principal will talk to the students through the prefects. The prefects are like a shield for the principal and the teachers: If we had SRCs the students can tell the principal and teachers what they think – and then they can also tell the students what they think also through the SRCs. The SRCs will be like a bridge between us.
Learn and Teach: We often hear people say. “There are people on the outside who make trouble in the schools.” Is there any truth in this?
Lulu Johnson: That is a really false thing to say. I can only say that DET officials are the ones who often make the trouble. When there is a problem, the officials or the principal just call the police. And then we all know what happens.
Learn and Teach: What about parents and teachers – how do the students feel about them?
Lulu Johnson: We don’t see any difference between teachers and parents. Teachers are also parents. We believe that teachers and parents must support us. They must help us in our struggle just like they did in 1953 when Bantu Education first started. I just want to say that these days some parents and teachers don’t help us as much as they can. I think they must try to help us more. We are all in this together. We will be like cripples without each other. I believe parents can really help us. If all parents were behind us DET would listen much more – and the police would not always be so hard on us. The police always think twice when they see our parents are behind us.
Learn and Teach: What is the answer to all these problems?
Lulu Johnson: We students will only be happy when “Bantu Education” is gone altogether. We want equal and free education under the same department for all the children of this country. And we want an education we can believe in. You know, students are the cream of this country. And right now they don’t believe in their education. But I think Bantu Education will only go when apartheid goes – and when all the people of this country are free.