short report

Education is important to South Africans? Since when?

06 December 2017 - 12:38 By Tom Eaton
Just call him Dr. People's Bae.
Just call him Dr. People's Bae.
Image: Instagram

On Tuesday morning the news broke that 80% of South African Grade 4s are illiterate. The country reacted by praising Cassper Nyovest for filling up a stadium‚ congratulating Mbuyiseni Ndlozi for graduating from Wits‚ worrying about state capture as it relates to Eskom and possibly Naspers‚ and Googling “listeriosis”.

Of course‚ all those things are noteworthy. I’m happy for Mr Nyovest and Dr Ndlozi‚ and yes‚ Eskom is a rat’s nest and listeriosis is nasty. But‚ in light of what the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study revealed‚ all of that is completely irrelevant. Because if 80% of your children cannot read for meaning in any language‚ and are therefore unable to learn‚ you might as well hand your country to the microbes that live in uncooked food and in Saxonwold‚ switch off the lights and walk away.

What’s that you say? We can’t give up? Education is too important to surrender so easily?

Oh really? Education is important to South Africans? Since when?

If we care so much about education‚ where are the two pages devoted to it in every daily newspaper‚ the way sport gets at least two? If we care so much about education‚ why does losing a goddamned rugby match trigger days of anger and weeks of passionate debate while yesterday’s news elicits nothing but a sigh? If we care so much about education‚ where are the magazines about schools and teachers‚ sharing shelf space in every supermarket queue with the ones about soap opera stars and British royals and cooking?

Even those whose job it is to call out the government’s catastrophic education policies were either muted or invisible after the news broke. The DA tweeted a demand for an investigation‚ but Mmusi Maimane’s only two tweets involved Nelson Mandela and a meeting with the Public Protector. The EFF didn’t even go that far‚ its official account dedicated entirely to the Ndlozi graduation‚ although Julius Malema did take a moment to retweet an irate Virgin Active member.

But of course this is inevitable in a country that doesn’t really care about learning and certainly doesn’t give a rat’s ass about primary education‚ a vast machine that eats children and spits out unemployable adults. The EFF knows that tweeting about a handsome politician who reads very well will get more traction than tweeting about lost 10-year-olds who can’t read at all.

We all know that our education system is broken‚ but yesterday’s non-response suggests that our relationship with education in general is just as broken. If we can’t see that 80% illiteracy is a death warrant for this country‚ and treat it as a national emergency equalling or surpassing state capture‚ then those children aren’t the only South Africans who can’t read the writing on the wall.