Amersfoort Legacy - Turning points

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Moving into the democratic era, the most recent period of South African education history is focussed on the legacy inherited by the post-apartheid state and the choices facing the state in terms of policy development and South Africa’s relationship with its neighbours. Important about this period is the consideration of policy choices in relation to the themes of power and its reconstitution and the imperative of reviewing the current era against the historical experiences which give it its social, political, economic and cultural character.

The relevance of our early education history is that it speaks clearly to the relatively well-known themes of our present, domination and resistance. Our history of the last 25 years, during which the youth of our land sacrificed themselves for the cause of liberation, poignantly echoes the example of their ancestors 350 years ago. And long may they continue to act when they see injustice. But it is the less well-known theme of acting in our own interests, seen in the Genadendal and madressah examples from early Cape history, which we need to highlight today. As we confront the intense difficulties at our schools and come face-to-face with our teaching and learning challenges -  the decline in reading, writing, comprehension and computing - it is the example of acting in our own interests that we need to recover. What does this mean? It means, minimally, that we hold everybody to account, from political authorities to teachers, students and administrators in our schools (ourselves included!). It means that we insist that we only get what is the very best that this country can deliver for us: good classrooms, good laboratories and good libraries; good teachers who teach to the best of their abilities and who are self-conscious of their strengths and shortcomings and can act on these; and students who value the privilege of learning and recognise their own responsibilities as learners. Beyond these minima, however, we ought to seize the moment, like those in the early days of our history. As bureaucrats, we need to look beyond the superficial indicators of school-life. We need to think deeply about how our leaders can be engaged creatively to confront the complexities of our schools. As teachers we need to be always trying new ways of being better at what we do. And as learners, we need to keep asking the question, what else is there to know and how do we get it? It is this urgency out of our past that is the creative legacy with which we move into our future.

Last updated : 10-Mar-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 21-Jul-2011