Is the debate not FREED Education rather than FEES- Free Education?
The subject of Free Education has since 2014 gripped with bigger intensity the panaplea of our national consciousness. We first heard this in the caption #feesmustfall.
Today the claim for free education is pronounced and has shown in jolts of confused debate. There are those who believe education must be free. There are those who hold education for the poor must be free, and then there are those who hold education is an inalienable right therefore all must have access to it freely.
What our current discourse has not yet afforded us to have access is the crystallised thinking on the subject. We have yet to distil our collective thoughts to find the meridian and equilibrium for what is deemed for some a utopia and for others a delay of what is rightfully theirs.
It is here that I seek to postulate the question of what is Free Education? In order to appreciate the notion of free education one must find a cardinal text, such is the Freedom Charter our own Magna Carta.
The late Oom Govan Mbeki, it is said never entertained anyone who off the cuff wanted to discuss the Freedom Charter with him. He would always insist that they both go and read it the night before and engage the next day. Herein lies for me a great mystery but a truth, for I concur with Oom Gov, too many discuss and talk the Freedom Charter from an uninformed place and lack of due exegesis.
The Freedom Charter that historical document articulates itself on the subject of education in the following manner: “The doors of learning shall be opened to all” it proceeds to say the following on higher learning “Higher Education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarship on the basis of merit”.
Like most dated scripts and historical texts those later through the lenses and filters of their own current circumstances will interpret it. We must be led to accept that the text must first stand in its own epoch before we can apply it to a timeless epoch.
Therefore we must prove salient in our search for a hermeneutic key and expression of what the Freedom Charter meant for the immediate moment of its articulation. The Freedom Charter therefore like all dated texts must first be understood in the context of its own milieu. By the time the Charter is articulated education in conflated SA presented a stark different picture to what we know in 2016. We know we had at least 19 different racialized and tribal based systems of education during apartheid.
The right to access tertiary education for a “black” or African was non –existent. The opportunity to advance in education was a scarce commodity. Thus if we going to appreciate the Freedom Charter in objective reflection we must pause to acknowledge we are not in the same space place or time as in 1955.
I want to postulate should we not rather talk of FREED EDUCATION in 2016 then FREE education.
My second challenge is how free education is naturally today in one-dimensional sense of precarious and irresponsible manner bandied around as that which came to be defined in moribund sense as non- fee – education?
As an outflow of this my third challenge with the Free Education crowd is assimilated in the fact that there is nodal truculence if not a consciousness to engage the subject of free education wider than the narrow fees subject.
The question becomes why the convenient shyness to engage honestly on the subject? Is its possible that those who scream free education will have to contend that this Democratic State has gone much further than what the Freedom Charter vocalized itself on education? Will we have to accept that the doors of learning in public sense are readily opened and the evidence of such is indisputable? Perhaps we must ask the following questions calmly and resolutely what are the main characteristics of a FREED Education?
Who are the designated primary and secondary beneficiaries of a FREED education?
Are their degrees of freedom in a FREED education and are the beneficiaries a homogenous group or groups?
What does FREED education meaning in current curriculum structural fit and content parity for much needed African input and expression?
What does FREED education mean in the current degree qualifications expression?
We must ask how does the Gramsci model of organic intellectualism fit the current paradigm and how will it in a FREED education sense be made relevant in authenticity and authority?
We dare not shy away from probing who controls the levers of education from kindergarten to tertiary levels?
We must unequivocally what informs the pedagogy for FREED education?
We must ask what does the commercialization of education mean to the aspirations of Freed Education – how and where these intersect?
Ultimately we must ask can we continue with the same academici from apartheid, including BEE academici and trust them as custodians to deliver us in FREED education – if so why if not why not?
Is FREED education a conscious break with the past of colonial and apartheid anthropology influence? If it is a conscious break where are the resource-materials and research archives that challenges that which we came to know as gospel from the minds of colonial and apartheid intelligentsia?
What will the infrastructure of a FREED education institutions entail, and why ought it to be different? Is it different in ontology or response?
Where does FREED education intersect with a global notion of benchmarking when we did not agree the standards that is acceptable as global?
If the Freedom Charter is the base of this claim can we engage the freedom Freedom a Charter less in emotional rhetoric? At least we know those who protest today easily recite and quote from this aspect of the Freedom Charter.
We must engage in asking is the State providing scholarships to higher learning deserving students? The answer is yes, is this help informed by merit yes and no. It appears merit can be seen as opportunity based given a particular student or groups socio economic disposition status and conditions rendering them naturally poor.
Equally merit can directly reflect on students academic performances as condition for deserving of support from the State.
The current debate is conveniently silenced on the subject of merit in which students must earn State support. Why are we allowing this convenient snd deceptive silence to go unabated ?
Let it also be known today that contrary to wild claims those who protest today at our institutions are not the SA poor they are the SA recently privileged. Those who destroy our infrastructure are not from the proletariat. Those who intimidate others today are from a class definition that defines them as benefactors of ANC BEE policies and legislation. Their parents are the newly advantaged.
They went to private schools from grade 00 to matric. They have play station 4, X-box consoles and all other goodies. They are the iPhone 6, Nike shoes, LV brigade who gladly whenever sips on their favourite libations immanent in chivas – regal and shooters. These are those who know the luxury of at least two German sedans in their suburban yards.
I am afraid they don’t live in Pofadder, Kanyamazane, Flagstaff, Lenyenye KoffieFontein, De Aar or Putsonderwater , they live in the sprawling suburbs.
I fear no contradiction to remonstrate their parents can afford because they have always afforded to pay. Their parents have at least for the last 12-14 years afforded to pay fees of between R4500-R9000 per month per child at private schools. I call it for pure bragging rights to claim where their children attend as they socialized with those they sought to impress. The same parents we are told today cannot afford R5000 per month to get a degree over a 36-month period paid for.
We must ask why the claim of free education is today used by the very empowered in the name of the poor? We must ask why the poor is abused by the new and old privileged who today have parents in key positions who gloat over their children’s role in a #feesmustfallcampaign?
It is therefore my conviction that unless we are willing to engage in FREED Education in its totality we must not be hoodwinked and weigh-laid into falling for the shallow calls of free education as ONLY evidenced in fees free education.
Clyde N.S. Ramalaine
Writer and Political Commentator
(This article written in Los Angeles 4/10/2016)