(Presented in Laudium in the mid-1980s)
I am going to look at education and freedom and try to show that our educational system does not free us; instead it enslaves us.
Education and freedom may sound like two separate things but they are not. They are two sides of the same coin. You cannot have freedom without education and unless you have education, you cannot have freedom. If you look at any religion, it will tell you that when you have understanding, you are free. In many religions, light is the symbol of knowledge and light means freedom from darkness, freedom from ignorance. When you are in the dark, you are afraid and lash about blindly. You become a victim in your situation because you do not understand. Once you have understanding, you are no longer in the dark, you have control over your actions and instead of being a victim, you are master of your fate. The true purpose of education is to set you free so that you can become a creative human being.
Does our educational system allow us to do this? A good education system gives you the freedom:
1. to know yourself
2. to recognise your capabilities
3. to understand how you relate to your society
Let us deal with the first: the freedom to know yourself.
What does it mean to know yourself? It means understanding your beliefs and how you came by them. You have to understand the context that moulded you. This means you have to study your history and understand the traditions out which you came. These traditions include the traditions of the ancient past, the immediate past and the present. In other words, you have to know your roots. As an Indian South African, I need to know something of the Indian traditions from which I came, I need to know why my family moved to South Africa, I need to know under what conditions they lived when they first arrived in South Africa and most of all, I need to know how the community developed in the hundred or more years that it has existed in this county. If I knew all this, I would know how I fit into the present situation and I would know how to deal with the present crises that beset us all.
When I went to school, there was nothing of the history of Indian South Africans in my books. Over the past few years, something of that history has been introduced, but is dwelt with in a cursory way, in passing, so that students coming out of high schools still have only a vague idea of the problems, the developments, the achievements, and the heroes of our community. We need to know all these things in detail in order to understand how we came to adopt our present perspectives and so that we can settle for ourselves whether we are Indians or South Africans.
Because we go to school and learn about Jan van Riebeeck, we come out of school confused. Are we to take Jan van Riebeeck as our founding father? Whose hero is he? Where are our heroes? Our education, by omission, teaches us that it does not matter about our heroes. When we accept that, we accept our inferior status. In other words, we say to ourselves that we do not learn our history in school because we are not important. We think because we do not learn about our achievements, we have no achievements.
Because we do not learn about our heroes, we believe we have no heroes. Instead we learn about those who have conquered the African people, we learn about their achievements in developing this country; we learn to accept Piet Retief and General Smuts as heroes. We learn in this way to accept inferiority so when we leave school some of us pretend that we are white to escape that feeling, some of us rebel against it but the majority just accept that we are Indians, that we, the local community, have nothing to be proud of and must look to India for its achievements and its heroes, its culture and its traditions. As we have nothing of our own, we do not really belong in South Africa.
As our history is treated as non-essential, we come to see ourselves as an isolated group and not as a group capable of relationships with the white and African communities. In other words, our education is geared towards making us accept outsider status, and legislation that allows us to be content with apartheid. We are put in the position of having to beg for acceptance as members of this society.
Our education, therefore, is not true education. It is propaganda that teaches discrimination. We learn to discriminate against one another and other people on the grounds of caste, colour, ethnicity and race. We learn through our separate schools and education to practise apartheid. We do it unwittingly and therefore are victims in this situation. Victims are disempowered persons, who complain and cry and achieve nothing. We should despise the notion of victimhood and become masters of our fates.
We can do so if we know ourselves, but the co-called education that we receive subverts that. It also does not fulfil the second requirement that I have identified, that is, the ability to recognise our capabilities, which is another way of knowing ourselves - knowing what our particular talents are. At present, our system is geared towards teaching some of us that we are good at school and others that we are not. This is useless information. What each one of us needs to know is what we excel at, what skills, trades, professions will help us develop and allow us make our contributions to the society.
If we are going to school just to learn that some of us can make it in school and some of us cannot, we are simply learning how to discriminate at school, learning how to differentiate on the basis of standardised intelligence requirements without taking into consideration our special abilities. Such education is not freedom, it is pointless. Many of our children when they reach matriculation, having no idea of their special abilities, have no idea how to choose a career. Many of them pick a career by chance, they actually take a gamble - some say, I'll be a lawyer, some say I'll be a doctor, others, a teacher - and these choices have nothing to do with capabilities. For some people it works out well, for others it does not.
What we need are better equipped schools, wider curricula, better teaching conditions so that children can discover their aptitudes. Right now children simply fit into slots that are chosen for them by their parents or by the vacancies offered to them in society. They do not have the freedom to engage in a creative relationship with the society, so they can knowingly use their talents to fulfil themselves and at the same time advance the society.
Our education, therefore, does not offer children that second freedom, the freedom to develop their own potential. That is why so many people leave school and become dependent on others to offer them jobs and tell what to do. They cannot enter into bargaining relationships with employers and they cannot change working conditions to suit themselves. Thus it becomes easy for the employer to exploit the employed. That is why work is seen as drudgery rather than a way to fulfil oneself. So we are victims, not masters of our fates.
Now we come to the third freedom that true education offers and that is the freedom to be a creative individual in your society. This happens when you understand your relationship to your society. Children in our schools are not given any insight into their roles in society. In the Indian South African community, we do not study the question of our isolation. We do not examine why a small minority of people like us have remained as a group; we never examine our interaction with other groups and how this interaction has changed and changed us. Instead we see ourselves as alien and we become the victims of fear. Because we are afraid, some become the prey of those who wish to use us to endorse apartheid, or we creep further into our isolation, into our ghettos, and pretend that what is happening in the country does not affect us.
The greatest freedom that education offers us is the ability to change our lives, change the traditional occupations of our families, change our life styles, but most important of all, change our society. In a society, which does not fulfil our needs, if we are properly educated, we can change it to fulfil our needs.
Right now, filled with fears and prejudices, we accept the status quo, and do not work to bring about change. We cling to the abject status of victims of circumstances as we cannot see how to fit in. We are not masters of our fates
Our education, which does not place us firmly within a national context, becomes a superficial affair and turns us into tools that keep the apartheid machine working. We never get to see ourselves as belonging within any scheme of things and so we are not really equipped to take charge of our lives. We can, therefore, be pushed into separate communities, moved from one area to another, told what to think and given puppets for leaders. We are educated to be victims of circumstances not masters of our fates. You can feel sorry for a victim but you can never respect and admire one. But you do respect and admire people who are in control of their own destinies.
In our education we have to accept what others prescribe for us. To make sure we accept, there are rigid rules and a rigid bureaucracy to control us. Teachers are not allowed to think for themselves. Principals and Inspectors make sure that they do not. Pupils are not allowed to think for themselves; teachers make sure that they do not.
Now to make things worse, education has been entrusted to the House of Delegates. These people in the House of Delegates are collaborators and do not understand the real educational needs of our community. This is demonstrated by the fact that they have accepted inferior status for our community. Only people who believe that we are inferior could accept positions in a Tri-Cameral Parliament where they do not have any real power and are merely puppets posturing for an autocratic government and attempting to give it credibility as a democratic structure. They are either simply opportunists or they do not understand that they are being exploited and that the positions they occupy have nothing to do with change. The Tri-Cameral Parliament is simply a way to pretend that change is happening and by pretending, preventing that change from happening. If the members of the House of Delegates had understood this, they would never have stood for election.
Some of us in the community believe that these people have power because they are able to interfere in housing and education. But this is not power; they have simply been given permission to beat us into submission. They are like the slaves, made overseers over other slaves, and given whips to beat them into submission. All their authority is the whip with which they punish us if we do not accept what the government wants. They punish by transferring teachers, by overlooking people for promotion, by victimising teachers and students, deny us a place to live, but they cannot make it possible for us to have a real education. They cannot advocate changes in the syllabuses and they cannot advocate that students be given true insight into the affairs of this society. They cannot do these things because that would be asking to get rid of racist education. That would mean getting rid of apartheid. If we got rid of racist education and apartheid, they would have no part to play. And I want you to understand what their part is: their part is to make us accept apartheid. They are faithful servants of their masters - they are by no means leaders. They are 'boss boys.'
I have tried to share with you my understanding of how the separate development educational systems entrench apartheid by making it difficult for us to know ourselves, by segregating us and isolating us, by not providing us with opportunities for individual development and by hiding from us the true nature of this society. I have not dealt with actual inequities of separate education, of the limited professional, economic and vocational opportunities open to black people, how class distinctions are created through education, how racial superiority is reinforced through education. I have merely looked at our situation in Laudium and how we are victims of an education system that encourages us to live in fear and isolation, to discriminate against others and to accept a passive role because we do not understand how we fit into the society.
It is my contention that our education system does not fit our needs and that in order to make it fit we can either determine our educational needs and find ways to correct and supplement what is at present being offered in schools or we can call for the kind of education system that we believe will fulfil our needs. In order to do that, we have to call for a just society - a society not based on apartheid.
What I hope I have made clear is that education does not merely mean getting a certificate and then fitting into a slot in society. Education is far more. Education, when it is successful, makes us aware that we have in us the power to change our existing conditions in a creative way. It is the means of making us masters of our fates, not victims of oppressive forces.