Monday, August 24, 2009
vive la resistance!
Due to car trouble I arrived late at school last week Thursday. Pulling into the parking lot I immediately sensed that something was going on. Entering the main schoolyard my intuitions were confirmed even though it was class time, students were standing around everywhere, chanting, singing and waving signs. This was strange.
The staffroom was abuzz with activity when I walked in. Teachers talking amongst themselves, others trying to create order. I asked a colleague what was going on.
‘The students are on strike,’ she replied.
On strike? I was surprised and amused at the same time. ‘Why?’ I asked her.
‘They are demanding their reports, they are demanding teachers, they are demanding to be taught.’
I went out into the schoolyard to speak to some students. I was the only teacher out there as the rest were seeking refuge in the staffroom or their offices. Here I saw messages that had been scrawled on pieces of paper, cardboard, wood – anything they could find. Messages such as ‘Fezeka has failed us’, ‘We demand physics teachers!’ and ‘We we want to apply for Varsity! Where are our reports?!’ were taped to doorways of classrooms and held high in the air while students chanted and sung songs of struggle and resistance in their mother tongues. (Needless to say I needed an interpreter to learn that these were what they were.)
Although my heart has swelled with pride for various reasons in the past, but the way in which it did so upon learning this information was different. I couldn’t believe it. They were putting their feet down and demanding the education they deserve. I was excited.
As discussed in previous blogs, the issue of teacher absenteeism and neglect is rife at our school, and I have been an active proponent of encouraging students to speak out against these injustices. For the most part my appeals have been just that, but it appeared that today was different. And the students were acting on their own volition! The issue of reports was because the students had not yet received any reports for the school year – not from March when they are supposed to be issued their first reports, not from June when they are to be issued their second reports. While no students have received their reports, the June reports are of particular importance to the Grade 12s as it is post-secondary institutions require students to submit them with their applications. It is now mid August.
There are a couple reasons why students had not yet received their reports. First and foremost is that there are some teachers who have not yet submitted their marks – for neither the first or second term. Secondly, there is the issue of teachers who do not come to school or leave midway or halfway through the term and do not return, feeling no sense of obligation to finish marking their exams or submitting marks
In an effort to appease the unrest, hurriedly-printed and inaccurate reports were distributed to students. I am still unclear on who made the decision to do this, and how they could have possibly thought the students would accept them. Of course they did not, and the strike continued for 2 more days.
On Friday after school the School Governing Board met with the entire staff, members of the Learner Representative Council and community members to reach a decision on how to move forward. It was decided at this meeting that teachers would not leave that evening until reports were properly assembled and marks recorded so that students could be issued their reports the following Monday. A group of us stayed at school until close to 6pm, trying to make order of the piles of incomplete mark lists, lacking marks because the teachers who were responsible for recording them had not done so or were no longer a part of the Fezeka family.
By Tuesday reports had been reissued and things had calmed down somewhat. Caught up with my own students and various after school activities I neglected to follow up with students to see if they were satisfied with their updated reports. As I did not hear anything to the contrary I assumed the matter was resolved. I was wrong.
It is now the second week of September and many students still have yet to receive accurate reports. As I sit in the office typing this there is a stack of reports next to me that list students having passed all their courses but because of a computer error (?) the result at the bottom of the page still lists them as not promoted. I am at a loss.
The student strike was indeed the first step in the right direction towards students taking their education into their own hands and sending a message that they refuse to put up with sub-standard education. Unfortunately, as is oft the case with expressions of discontent, this first step must be followed by many more in order to actually get someplace. I sincerely hope they have the courage to continue to demand their rights.