President appeals for backing for national education campaign. Karen Mac Gregor reports.
Building classrooms, training teachers, developing a new curriculum and improving resources are all vital to South Africa's attempts to deliver equal opportunities and quality education to all its children. But it is widely agreed that school reforms will only work if people in the country start taking education seriously.
Last month, at the JB Simelane High School in Soweto, President Nelson Mandela launched a national campaign appealing to all South Africans for help in creating a culture of teaching and learning, especially in devastated black schools.
The idea is to "drive deep into popular consciousness" what the campaign identifies as some of the key values of education - discipline, application, determination to succeed, mutual support and community ownership - in an effort to improve education at all levels.
The three-year Campaign on the Culture of Teaching and Learning will be co-ordinated by the deputy education minister Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, a Catholic priest whose belief in human goodness somehow endured torture, harassment and many years of house arrest during the decades he spent as a leader of the anti-apartheid struggle.
While the campaign will be driven by provincial education departments, it will rely on the involvement of the private sector, unions, civil society organisations such as churches and civics, and teachers, pupils and parents in projects funded by public and private money.
"In a good number of our schools, effective learning and teaching is not going on," Father Mkhatshwa told The TES.
"We can't seriously talk about quality education at all. Apartheid is largely to blame, but the mess is with us now and needs to be remedied.
"We must make sure that learners go back to school, and that when they get there they take learning very seriously, work hard and attend punctually for 200 days a year.
"We must make sure that educationists actually do their jobs, prepare properly, are well qualified, know how and what to teach, can manage a class, and teach for 200 days a year.
"We want schools to play the role they do in a normal society."
The campaign, which will be advertised widely, will have a range of programmes aimed at stimulating learning in schools.
Father Mkhatshwa said that under apartheid some very poor black schools had excelled, despite the many obstacles they faced, indicating that will and hard work were at least as important as better resources in improving education.
"Excellent black schools will be identified and given a public profile so that they can inspire others and show it can be done," he said.
By convincing parents that black schools can be good, the education department also hopes to alleviate a problem that is becoming serious - the exodus of thousands of black children to schools in the cities and suburbs, because people feel there is no serious learning in townships.
The campaign will encourage teachers to work a full day, five days a week during term periods. A basic resources package will make furniture and equipment available and ensure that at least 5,000 classrooms are built by the turn of the century.
It will attempt to fill vacancies on governing bodies, which were given greater powers in last year's Schools Act, by encouraging parents in particular to take part. Governing bodies are still in their infancy in most African schools and the government believes that greater parental involvement is a key to better schools.
Father Mkhatshwa will ban the carrying of weapons at schools as well as launch a campaign against drugs, rape, sexual harassment and all forms of criminal activity in schools. Institutions, governing bodies, teacher and students will also be urged to subscribe to an "education charter".