Concluding our orientation in Washington, DC, members of Congress and their staff joined us on Capitol Hill for a send-off reception to talk with us about our upcoming journey to South Africa and the importance of this type of teacher education today.
I had the privilege of hearing from staff member Sarah Schelling (at right) from Congressman Van Hollen’s office, who specializes in legislative issues dealing with education. She shared with me the many aspects of education issues the Congressman is tackling and how he is looking out for the interests of our students and our teachers in that process.
In addition to speaking with Ms. Schelling, I was also able to speak with Mr. Johnny Meloto, the interim ambassador from South African to the United States. He was so receptive to our visit and was very excited for our upcoming trip (he actually said he wished he were going with us!).
Senator Roland Burris (D-IL) also spoke to the guests at the reception about the importance of this type of trip and the vital role that education plays in our society.
“Education is for eternity,” Sen. Burris said. He mentioned many things that come and go, but the lasting impact of education on a young person, an older person, and on a generation will last for decades.
Rounding out our orientation in Washington, DC was a great discussion on the post-Apartheid movement in South Africa and the successes it has created, yet the many challenges that it faces in a culture of classes. Some highlights include:
- Major challenges for equal access to quality education for all races and classes, with white and wealthier South Africans still accessing a majority of the best schools, or moving to private schools
- Better access to jobs for everyone, but much of their upward mobility is based on education (this is why so many South Africans see education as their key to success in life!)
- While the bureaucratic system of education is providing more access to better jobs for black teachers who didn’t have that access during apartheid, learners in poorer schools will continue to lose out when better teachers move to better-paying schools
- Urban schools include more experienced teachers and more access to better resources, where rural teachers are usually less experienced teachers with less access to resources for student learning
- Corruption continues to be a problem at all levels of government, and the education system is no exception. The system is very bureaucratic, involving multiple layers of authority for even the most basic approvals, this makes it hard to root out corruption within the system
While the post-apartheid era has helped to level the playing field for many South Africans, the challenges that remain are very much based on class. While learners in poorer families see the advantages of education as their ticket to a brighter future, obtaining access to those resources is harder but more within their reach than during the apartheid era.