Saturday, September 26, 2009

Education in South Africa: Doron Isaacs, Zackie Achmat, and Equal Education

This picture is by Pieter Bauermeister and is from yesterday's New York Times. The picture appears with Celia Dugger's article "South African Children Push for Better Schools" (here).

Dugger reports about a movement called Equal Education, which is attempting to mobilize South Africans -- including the students themselves -- to demand improvements to the education system. 29 year old named Doron Isaacs and veteran activist Zackie Achmat lead the movement. One of their initial projects was to give students in schools in Khayelitsha (a Cape Town slum area) disposable cameras in order to create a documentary record of problems with the schools which could be used to demand greater government investment.

According to Dugger, one of the pictures -- a bank of shattered window panes -- was especially powerful; I've been searching online but haven't been able to track down the picture. The campaign worked, as the provincial government invested significantly more in local schools than it otherwise would have. In another campaign, Equal Education agitated for a science teacher at a school without one.

Dugger's story brings to mind some of the issues we discussed in Jim Ryan's race and education course. Initial attempts at education reform focus, by necessity, on physical and practical needs: facilities, teachers, books. Only once those issues are addressed can reformers move on to the more intractable systemic problems such as inequality in the "intangible" resources (quality of teachers, expectations, availability of remedial help) with which so many American public school systems continue to struggle.

At any rate, this was an inspiring story -- particularly because Equal Education has gotten the kids themselves invested in the project of improving their educations. My favorite quote: '“We want more information and knowledge,” said a ninth grader, Abongile Ndesi.'

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