Thursday, 24 November 2016

Bridging Classes: Fixing the Inequality Divide through Education

Article by Kate Ellis-Cole (Published with the author's permission)

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as the Americans say. For our #FeesMustFall student protesters, ‘grease’ has come in the form of an additional R17bn for higher education from Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande, over the next three years.

While the protesters are within their rights, what some refer to as the most integral education sector – Early Childhood Development (ECD) – is being effectively muted by comparison. Poor foundation phase education lies at the heart of SA’s most harrowing education challenges, like poor literacy and a lack of numeracy aptitude. Yet, there is no identifiable government programme for financing the construction of new ECD facilities. Let alone, upgrading and maintaining existing ECD facilities, and improving general access.

The only hunger that a child should experience is the hunger to learn. But, sadly, South Africa’s children continue to go hungry, and the country’s macro-economic ills continue to push these potential stars further back in the pecking order.

South Africa’s notoriety for being the most unequal society in the world – our gini coefficient hovers at 0.69, with 1 representing a perfectly unequal society – has resulted in our children being disenfranchised. In a no-growth economy, and in a country gripped by extreme social and political turmoil, inequality is an evil that must be vanquished for the good of us all.

Measures of inequality are based on access to basic services, including health care, essential infrastructure, electricity supply, sanitation, and education. However, quality education can scarcely be expected to occur in the presence of enormous lack in the other areas. Poor teacher education, a lack of sanitation and infrastructure, and poor learning resources in rural areas mean that quite aside from the injustice faced by children without access to ECD centres, inequality wreaks havoc even among those rural children who do indeed attend ECD centres.

According to the World Bank, only 30% of South Africa’s black children have dual-parent households, in contrast to 83% of white children. On average, black children are also more likely to have a large number of siblings, live in poorer or informal areas, and are orphaned or part of a child-headed household. There is, of course, also the cataclysmic state of the education system in South Africa, which sees our children’s numeracy and literacy ranking among the lowest in the world. This stems from a flawed ECD phase. It is important to therefore consider statistics published by the World Bank, that show that 60% of South African school leavers do not have a proper matriculation, and those that do pass, do so with an aggregate mark of less than 40%. Low quality education also contributes enormously to unemployment, which in turn proliferates the prevailing inequality.

ECD is the psychological, social and physiological education and care of small children, younger than school-going age. It comprises quality nutrition needed for the healthy development of the child’s brain and musculoskeletal system; social interaction, love and affection; health care and treatment; age-appropriate physical exercise and strengthening; and cognitive and academic opportunities for learning. The South African government and National Development Agency are aware of the need for quality ECD centres, citing scientific studies that prove that the academic abilities of school pupils, students and graduates are enhanced through their involvement in ECD from a young age. But is government playing its role in executing early learner development programmes? Then, there’s the question of whether parents have been educated around the benefits of their children attending ECD centres, before primary school-going age.

One of the reasons that ECD seems unlikely to reach the lofty goal of being universally accessible and equitable by 2030, as set by government, is the restrictive costs of establishment and attendance. Our government provides a miniscule subsidy for indigent children’s education, an amount which scarcely enables attaining even the bare minimum required by legislation to open an ECD centre. This presents an obstacle to the construction of new facilities, upgrading current ones, and improving resources and equipment to better the state of facilities.

Only one third of the children eligible to attend ECD programmes have access to them. And a sore lack of governmental policy is hampering the coordination and integration of ECD into an actionable plan. Established ECD programmes and centres provide economic and social benefit through giving job-seeking parents an opportunity to work away from home, and be stimulated themselves. Add to this, children’s improved proficiency at school, improved intellectual development, better social competency, and higher verbal and intellectual capabilities. In turn, these skills contribute to a stronger workforce and a more productive populace, shrinking the inequality divide.

So, if there’s any squeaking to be done, let it be to project the voice in favour of quality early foundation phase education for our children. While they’re in no position to march to parliament and present a memorandum and demand to be heard, they’re the silent carriers of the unlocked economic potential of SA Inc. The South African government and civil society hold the key to this potential. Why won’t we unlock it – together?

Kate Cole – IQ Business

Saturday, 12 November 2016

President Donald Trump was inevitable, if you knew a bit about people.

There's this misperception in parts of the world that we as humanity gradually step forward, towards one goal. I love to read world history, and right now, as always, I am working my way through the complete general history of some or other nation you might not have heard of. It's what I like to do, and it teaches a lot. Nations go on all sorts of journeys, and after all sorts of ideologies. Donald Trump is not some outlier. He is pretty much the political norm. We don't make big decisions, like who to vote for, with our logical minds, we make such decisions with the part of us that decides 90% of everything we do, it is an intuitive decision, a decision of the primitive brain, and Donald Trump is an expert at reading the zeitgeist of the primitive human mind. There is a reason people such as he are called populists, their views are very popular with the general population, even amongst those who abhor them.

Studies of subconscious bias confirm this. Even the most liberal, pro-black American white person tends to score badly on subconscious bias against black Americans, Hispanics, homosexuals, bisexuals, transsexuals and so forth. Despite mass open support for LGBT in America, those four letters make up half of America's homeless. Gays make less than straight Americans, and bisexuals do even worse. Subconsciously, Americans are more likely to associate blacks with violence, evil, crime and so forth. Granted, Black Americans are disproportionately part of America's poorer communities, and demographically, the poor are both more likely to commit crime and more likely to have crimes committed against them, but both activists and popular media ignore this in favour of a narrative that isn't quite sold to Americans. Black Lives Matter rioting and protests against the American national anthem haven't helped the black community's subconscious status as 'other', and this increases the likelihood of poverty and exclusion, which also makes crime and victimhood more likely, a cycle that continues, along with increased subconscious bias against African Americans amongst the white American majority. If anything, subconscious bias is at one of its worst levels in recent American history, and as we vote with our subconscious, media highlighting to voters that Trump was just like them, fearing immigrants, and other scapegoats, was pretty much all Trump needed. The fact media likes to treat White Americans as unimportant, redundant, and yesterday's news, was only likely to increase the likelihood of a vote for the Republican candidate.

Let's look at other media attacks on Trump: he kissed women without permission. In South Africa we call that sexual assault, but watch any American television series, and kissing another unexpectedly is portrayed as courageous and hardly anything wrong. I personally am rather proud of the number of women who have felt the need to secretly pinch my butt when I wasn't looking, but their actions would also technically be sexual assault. Trump's assertion that women would be prepared to consent to anything he did to them because he was a big star and rich and famous, is an assertion most Americans would agree with: they widely view their elite as being able to do as they please. The worst thing Trump could be accused of, therefore likely didn't really sway many voters, given that American culture tends to view such acts as ones of courage or humour. One need only listen to rap music, or watch American television to see just that. Trump represents the id of the American people, that which their national ego tends to hide from, but that which at its root, controls all their major decisions.

Research has shown that the only real way to combat extreme views is by presenting facts in a non-confrontational manner, and appealing to norms and standards that an opponent is likely to adhere to, in a non-emotive manner. Attacking those holding extreme views, calling them names, isolating them, and so forth, only strengthens their views. Trump caught onto this when he announced that he could murder in broad daylight and not lose support. An anti-Trump media had so buffered the American public against anything Trump could do, that he really had free reign, and could cleverly gain free publicity to tap into the national id, due to media's insistance that they had to denounce him. Really, all media did was reinforce an opinion of Trump the American public already had. Attacking him for being an uncouth man off the street, when he really is an elite billionaire, only got the incredibly wealthy tycoon more support from struggling men on the street and gave him grassroots appeal.

Media also refused to broach Hillary Clinton's weak points, and her policy and character failings. She never had to defend herself, save against Wikileaks, and as a result, voters were left with the impression that she was fragile, weak, and incompetent, protected by a friendly media and not really worthy of office, given her supporters' fear of the spotlight hitting her. When James Comey announced investigations against Hillary, and the Justice Department said they tried to stop him from telling the public, while Democrats threatened to punish him, the view that Hillary had something to hide became something that deeply sunk into the subconscious. Voters felt they just couldn't trust her. Trump, who they also deeply disliked, was the devil they felt they knew. What was there left to dig up, that media wouldn't have splattered on the front pages of every newspaper, after all, media had almost universally stated that they opposed Trump. What better way to make sure Trump won? Foolish media, but they were unperturbed.

Donald Trump will likely spend at least four years in the White House. Hopefully he will realise, as Reagan did, that he is woefully incompetent for the job, and appoint a wise team of experts to advise him, so that he does not drive America into the Titanic's field of icebergs. Regardless, no one should be surprised that Donald Trump won. Democracies throughout history are prone to electing sandmen just like him. It's the great terror, and great beauty of democracy: it is not the experts and wise guardians who elect a president. A president is not a pope. He is elected by the unwashed masses, and their choice is often messy, difficult and may seem undesirable. Yet, without that power to elect the uncomfortable into power, the unwashed masses would be at the mercy of the elite. This is the essence of democracy, and democracy this election has been.

They say love is blind, precisely because the intuitive, primitive mind controls whom we fall in love with. That same mind makes our most important decisions, it is what we vote with. I am not surprised that a man who is an expert at manipulating the zeitgeist, achieved election to the highest office in the United States of America. In hindsight, is anyone really that surprised? After all, would you have told pollsters you supported Trump, when for all you knew it was a prank by friend or foe, which could affect your career prospects? When media is as biased as in the Brexit and Trump elections, polls cannot be trusted, but underlying fears and primitive emotions are usually a steady guide as to a vote. They stood true as a north star to predict this last election, and will, in similar circumstances, in the future. Populism is called populism for a reason.

Also Posted by myself to SACNS as 'If you studied history, Donald Trump's win would be obvious, not surprising'.

Marc Evan Aupiais

Marc Evan Aupiais

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