This is a submission to the 2016 Tsogo Alumni Society Essay Competition. The essay is the learners work and has gone through some minimal editing for presentation.
Author: Tshiamo Morokane
Grade: 11D, Tsogo Secondary School
Title: Is there such a thing as “free education”? Could this “free education” be achieved by non-fee paying schools (like Tsogo Secondary) and “free” higher education as espoused by the #FeesMustFall movement?
Nobel Peace prize winner Kailash Satyarthi, said that “education is the birthright of every child and that the denial of education is totally unacceptable”. He said this in context to the cases of child labour that were prevailing in India and because he saw education as the silver bullet to alleviate this unacceptable situation.
Many countries across the world agree with Satyarthi, and many who came before him who held the same ideal. Countries like Brazil, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Germany, France and Scotland to mention a few have implemented various systems of free education across the different education levels. Some have had the ability to offer this same opportunity to international students as well. Countries like China are taking strides to follow suit as they have also seen the benefits of an educated society. Although the right to education should be a universal entitlement, what does real free education actually cost? How much does it really amount to if we had to count, add and quantify it? I looked up the definition of the word “free” in the dictionary to fully understand what I am writing about. Two definitions stood out for me; “without cost or payment” and “remove something undesirable or restrictive from”. The second definition stood out for me, the most. Maybe the idea of a system of free education as espoused by the #FeesMustFall movement is something that can be achieved in our lifetime; the moment we remove all that restricts our thoughts about this seemingly pie-in-the-sky idealistic system.
The Australian 2006 Education and Training Reform Act states that “free education” includes learning and teaching instructional support, materials and resources, administration and facilities associated with the provision of the standard curriculum. The Act also has a provision that allows the school councils to charge for goods and services used in the course of schooling or learning. It also states that the school governing body can request payments from parents in specified areas of learning, including essential educational items defined as items required in the standard curriculum. This list is outlined in the Act and includes items such as stationery, textbooks, computer levies, uniforms, school bags etc. Now that doesn’t sound “free”, now does it? Free education will only be achieved when we allow our minds to think beyond the barriers that we have put there. We have restricted (there comes that word again) education to a building, a structure called a school, there are so many platforms of free learning that we know about but have not taken the time to utilise and enjoy. I am not saying that the structure of a school is not important, of course it is, but that should not limit us from using other spaces of learning. I learn so much daily from Google and Wikipedia because the founders of the search engine, the education tools, the virtual classrooms, understand that you can use the expertise of millions of other people to educate everyone, everywhere; for free.
Currently, the department of education pays a portion of teacher’s salaries in government schools, while independent schools are funded privately. Schools that are funded by the government supplement their funds through parents’ contributions, such as school fees being paid by the parents and/or fundraising events and receiving donations; this is what my school – Tsogo does. Most government funded schools in South Africa use the government grant for their operational costs and maintenance costs and these are real costs that I will not pretend do not exist; even though this paints a bleak picture in my attempt to advocate for free education. The Huffington Post wrote, after the #FeesMustFall developments, that free higher education is possible in South Africa; it is a question of making reasoned public choices, and
of understanding the consequences of public policies of both free and non-free higher education. From reading the article, I gathered that free is not really free, how can something be free if you have to work for it? Even some scholarships have to be paid back or worked back, bursaries have to be paid back in some or other way and taxes are pre-payments to this free education ideal that we strive for and that our parents wish for us. I however do not think that “free” should necessarily be only in reference to monetary value and we should certainly not restrict learning to only those who are paying. Good education should not be like a delicacy that costs lots of money and that is only afforded by a few. We need to prevent education from being an inherited privilege; we need to introduce more innovative ways of schooling.
My older sister told me about a seminar that she attended, called The University of Informal Learning under the banner of a TED-type talk called Suits and Sneakers. She was very impressed with this idea and felt that it was a brilliant way of learning, connecting and growing within a techno age. She mentioned that the man who started this, a young man in his 30’s, lamented on how everyone deserved to have access to education and that this education should not cost what it currently does. My older sister said that it reminded her of the lessons that our grandmother used to impart to her grandchildren in the evenings, around the fire. She says the most meaningful lessons were learnt there, invaluable lessons that no classroom could teach. What if we gathered around a virtual fire, in the make of a virtual university, for example Education for Free (http://ww.educationforfree.org), that is a knowledge-sharing platform that aims at achieving education for everyone, for free, for everywhere? What if we made use of these platforms to virtually gather and impart and exchange knowledge? Many of these knowledge sharing platforms have been created for us to make use of and derive benefits. The University of the People, a virtual university that was founded in 2009, exclusively uses volunteer faculty. What if volunteers taught classes? Services such as Coursera (https://www.coursera.org/), an online learning platform that offers free and other charged courses for a fraction of the traditional in-class cost. If we came together as a community and put our knowledge, abilities and resources together we could achieve unfathomable success.
In the words of the late President Nelson Mandela, Education is the most powerful weapon that we can use to change the world, and in the words of Robin Cook education is a responsibility that society owes itself. How badly do we want to be an educated and a progressive nation? How badly do we want to progressively grow economically and be able to sustain this growth? How badly do we want a progressive nation free of crime and poverty? I agree that education is the silver bullet that Kailash Satyarthi envisioned that it was and it is freely all around us. We have it, we need to just reach out and grab it and share it with those who are out of reach. We can #InnovateToEducate. This is a techno age, everything is at our disposal.