Society has abdicated its responsibility to education according to commentators at a recent Education Conversations evening in Johannesburg. The conversations are hosted by The University of Johannesburg, Kagiso Trust and City Press. In response to the question Matakanye Matakanye, secretary of the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB), suggested that society has abdicated its responsibility because the quality of education of their children is low on the list of priorities in many families.
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Suggesting that parents have little control over the movement of their children, he commented: “today, if you want to find the youth, got to the taverns.” He suggests that the National Planning Commission is there to shape a vision for South Africa, but questions why it has taken so long after 1994 to do so – particularly in regard to the education crisis. Dr. Gillian Godsell, Research Fellow at the WITS School of Public and Development Management, echoed this view suggesting that society has abdicated its responsibility towards education because we have failed to produce a vision for what we want education to achieve. She suggests that while there is not shortage of debate in South Africa, this debate is filled with vitriol and eats away at the fabric of society. “Let’s engage in a debate about an education system that is complex, nuanced and not wholly bad,” she urged. This debate brings to questions broader questions about how we define a society, and how the society collectively accepts responsibility for the functioining of the systems and services that it relies on to survive. A question posed by one audience member for me strongly suggests that it is the society itself that is not functioning as it should be as he asked, “where were the parents before the Limpopo text book crisis got so far?” What where parents doing between January and October when this story hit the headlines and the courts? What were they doing to hold their Government to account and to enforce the rights of their children? In previous media reports Mr Matakanye has suggested that these parents and governing bodies did not act because they were intimidated by the threats of school principals who had an interest in hiding the problems from public scrutiny. A society whose fabric has been eaten away indeed.