Schweizer-Reneke school takes us back to Stone Age

13 January 2019 - 00:00 By Sunday Times

It is unfortunate, to coin an understatement, that a teacher saw fit to separate black and white children in a Schweizer-Reneke classroom this week.
Twenty-five years into democracy, we expect more from those entrusted to grow our children into citizens who can confidently take their place in the world. That the conflict ballooned so quickly shows that the path towards a more inclusive society is still mired in hatred and distrust.
The children of the North West town, meanwhile, are left to figure out why their skin colour should earn them different treatment.
Families and schools are where children are taught how to behave towards their fellow human beings and how to exist in a world shared with billions of people different to themselves. Studies - particularly from countries that have grappled with the integration of immigrant communities - show that students from diverse environments do better in their schoolwork.
Diversity can encourage creativity and collaboration, develop cultural awareness, help us become comfortable with difference and foster empathy. Harvard Business School found that the key to successfully diverse groups lay in "cognitive diversity", which is how individuals think about and deal with new and complex situations. Cognitive diversity takes root when it is safe for people to deploy their unique perspectives and to try things in different ways.
Deloitte found a strong correlation between feeling safe enough to speak up and being inspired to do one's best work.
These insights show that the benefits of diversity take root only in inclusive environments. Merely having children of different races in one class is not enough. They must be taught in ways that validate them and help them learn confidently.
Making a group of black pupils sit together, whether on account of their race or of being weak at Afrikaans, is not designed to help them learn. It is designed to teach them that they are different and somehow lacking. This is all the more so in a classroom where 18 white pupils - to four black pupils - are the overwhelming majority.
North West education MEC Sello Lehari said the province needed wise teachers who treated every pupil, irrespective of race, as their own child. We could not agree more.

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