In schools of struggle a future is forged

4th April 2003 at 01:00
The History of Education Under Apartheid: 1948-1994. Edited by Peter Kallaway. Peter Lang. pound;23.35

The History of Education under Apartheid is "a retrospective on the years of apartheid education", according to its preface. This gives the impression that the book is a mere practical account of those years from 1948 to 1994, of general appeal to all those with a passing interest in apartheid, in education or, indeed, in apartheid education. It is an understatement of what this collection of papers does, of the richness of its content and its potential to stimulate debate, not merely about the history of apartheid education, but about where education in South Africa is, or should be, headed for today.

Many would pick up this book because the searing image of the young martyr Hector Petersen being carried through Soweto streets surrounded by shocked and tearful fellow students at the start of the 1976 uprisings is still engraved in their memories. At first glance, The History of Education under Apartheid is too specialist or theoretical for such a general readership.

After all, its declared aim is "to promote the neglected field of the history of education in South Africa and thereby stimulate reflection that will help us to critically evaluate the nature and direction of contemporary education policy discourse and practice".

Thus, in the first section, for example, Brahm Fleisch states: "Unlike the standard accounts that focus either on the functional relationship between the new education policy and the reproduction of 'cheap labour' or the organic crisis of the 1940s, this history explores the discourse of social planning, efficiency and expert control in the formative text of apartheid education." Two entire papers are devoted to new, or alternative, analyses of the theory underpinning apartheid education, particularly as encapsulated in a key commission's report. To say this scholarly tone is not limited to the theory section, but pervades even the book's more practical sections, is not a criticism of the book, simply an observation of its content and style, noting the readership for which it will have most (initial) appeal.

But the book does incorporate a great deal of material of interest to the general reader, such as the sections on popular resistance, alternative education projects, and oral histories. Even in his preface, Peter Kallaway moves fluidly from a fulsome characterisation of apartheid as a political system that provided the context of its multi-layered segregated education system to a brief recounting of his own experiences, as a white South African, of the apartheid education system as student and as educator.

Linda Cooper, Sally Andrew, Jonathan Grossman and Salim Vally examine worker education under apartheid, which, they argue, "has necessarily been about struggle: the struggle of black men and women for access to skills and knowledge denied to them by a gendered and racialised division of labour". Fhulu Nekhwevha discusses "the internal and external influences that informed educational policy and struggle during the 1970s and 1980s", and Teresa Barnes and Thandiwe Haya analyse the role of non-government organisations in the struggle against apartheid. Sean Morrow, Brown Maaba and Loyiso Pulumani, on the other hand, look at education in exile, while Shireen Motala and Salim Vally examine the nature of the People's Education campaign in that era.

Those who experienced apartheid education from its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s to its decline in the 1980s, and those who participated directly or indirectly in the struggle against apartheid, will find the biographical section appealing. Here, there is a feel for what it was like to be an educator or student under the apartheid regime. In Britain, where children are protesting about war, the discussion of the central role played by protesting schoolchildren in South Africa is very relevant - especially as many of the book's contributors are products of apartheid education and the struggle against it. Equally interesting is the final section, containing Crain Soudien and Fhulu Nekhwevha's insights into the relationship between traditional African practices and modern education, Zolani Ngwane's examination of the relationship between traditional practices and modern schooling (and between their respective adherents), and Azeem Badroodien's look at correctional education.

Some papers go beyond the historical. Thus Andre Kraak shows that, although much has been achieved in vocational education and training since 1994, the links with the past still inhibit real change in this area. Linda Chisholm considers the relationship between the South African educational system and those elsewhere, pre-and post-1994. The discussion about continuities and discontinuities between British educational developments and those in South Africa gives the book additional interest to a British-based readership.

The new regime in South Africa is faced with creating a viable new educational system for all its citizens. This necessitates a review of the past. In contributing to that evaluation, in stimulating discussion and debate on the future of education in South Africa, lies the chief value of this book. Limitations of space (and remit) prevent engagement here with some of the more controversial perspectives offered, but no doubt appropriate critiques will follow.

Suffice to say that this book is an important addition to the library of specialists in educational theory and those generally interested in a practical history of apartheid education.

Shereen Pandit is a writer who formerly practised and taught law in South Africa

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