The eLearning Fundi

Random reflections about eLearning in Africa

Indiscipline, freedom and education

Over the last moon-months, I have been agonising on the effects of over-democratising educational offerings, and the effects such measures would have on the future of a nation, or what I would call now the future of work and potential tax-payers. Indeed, the issue of democracy as it is is not well understood – and probably never will. This is evident on many pronouncements about such things as elasticity of democracy, getting leaders that a population deserves in a democracy, the rights of the minority electorates, and the carefree attitude often take by the ‘democratically’ elected leaders. This blurs the line between what is often termed as freedom in a democracy and laissez-faire, often apt carelessness or irresponsibility manifested in stretching the elastic concept of democracy. And of course there is sham democracy. I digress.

The concept of education and freedom can be as elastic as the concept of democracy – more so because of the different viewpoints held by the various stakeholders and interest groups in the educational provision and the education industry as a whole. With the congruence in all, often, being oiling the palms or the profit nature of education. This view, is erratic and oftentimes leads to disastrous impacts – unionised teachers purport to represent the best interests of the learners by being hypnotised by their collective bargain. Of course, there is the noble viewpoint that generally sees education as a form of civilization that is beneficial to all the stakeholders. Here, I look at the definition of civilization and the role of education given by Bertrand Russell in his epic essay Education and Discipline. In it, he views civilization as equipping an individual with intellectual and moral qualities that are demanded in a society that has “respect for law, justice as between man and man, purposes not involving permanent injury to any section of the human race, and intelligent adaptation of means to ends.” He elaborates on the individual’s intellectual and moral endeavours as intellectually meeting a certain minimum of knowledge, technical skills of one’s profession and a habit of forming opinions based on evidence. Morally, an individual should show impartiality, kindness and have a modicum of self-control. In addition, a civilised person should have zest and joy of life. We can interrogate each of these concepts as applicable in all spheres of life. Not this time.

Applying this definition to freedom in education, without the bounds of elastic views on such concepts, it would seem that ensuring that the freedom envisaged is that of provision of quality, timely and meaningful education within the bounds of improving an individual and the community at large. This can be done by taking the assumption that those receiving the education are  a) virtuous and will always do the right thing in the educational process b) unable to work without authoritative command on the process and thus receivers of an education will not be virtuous if they are free and c) virtuous and they would need to be reprimanded or guided should there be need to. The last assumption is a break from giving too much freedom in the education process and therefore benefit from the notion of man’s goodliness as well as limiting the effect of authoritarianism that could lead to unquestioned submission or rebellious attitude. In this view, there are reinforced sanctions as well as incentives for continuous good behaviour.

Now, back to South Africa. The ability and willingness to take the view that even though there should be need to treat school kids as ever virtuous, there should be some level of disciplining and imposing appropriate sanctions has decimated. This is clearly visible in the most areas and avenues where you would expect school going kids to be behaving in a certain level of civility espousing both their virtuous intent and acknowledgement of the sanctions for bad behaviour – or to the least the regard of others. Many, however, argue that the visible marks are mirror replicas of the the society in general and that these students are just perfect mirror-images. Which, to some extent, has merit. There is sheer and utter disregard of quality, time and meaning of not only education but also anything that requires effort – work. For a society so much focused on earning more than its producing, this is worrying. Perhaps, therefore, the visible behaviour in our kids not only is a reflection of our actions, but also of our true identity – in short our confounded meaning of civilisation. Before someone shouts with indignation of a scolded mother-in-law, let me elaborate by means of example. We have come to expect so little from the little minds, rewarding mediocrity – actually elevating it to the extent that we define new standards. How, if we could ask, would moderating national examinations results to ‘massage‘ the pass-rate and please some uneducated politician helpful to our course? I do not even want to mention the delivery of books to schools. How would refusal to face off with the issues that are affecting us, always reverting to rhetorical having engagements or initiating meaningless discussions help solve our problems?

There are of course well meaning and very hardworking teachers who always find themselves at odds with the new defined average. These should be cloned.

Back to the freedom and education. For every freedom, it should take the highest level of responsibility. Responsibility cannot come without the awareness of what is acceptable with the freedom, and more so without a common understanding of the meaning of civilisation and education and the role of each in the other. In addition, there cannot be any freedom – real or imagined – when there is no culture of hard work. The easy route to success that more often than not reads like a botched sangoma-like-bullet-protection charm should be avoided at all cost. This, however, cannot happen without proper education and a culture of hard work. Indeed, we need to re-school ourselves in a number of dimensions. First, as they say, there is nothing for mahala. The moment the delusional thought of mythical manna from the skies is gone, we would be less entitled to what we have not worked hard for. Maybe I am hallucinating. Secondly, when we see real sanctions for misdemeanors and rewards for virtue, then and maybe, we might stop waking up from bad dreams. Of course this cannot happen without injuring the perpetuated notion of cadre deployment and political sycophancy. I mean, the mirror-images we see are not of reward for honesty but to a large extent rewards for ill-discipline, thoughtlessness, and idiocy.

Thirdly, if all the entitlement comes after putting in hard work – that is – I am entitled to a decent pay after putting a decent effort at work, get the credit for the effort I have put and also get sanctioned for things that fall short of what is expected. The things that fall short of what is expected should be defined not in the new revised mediocrity standard. Fourth, there should be authentic education – using meaningful and timely interventions that are aimed not only at addressing current problems but also prepared the generations for future problems. We should realise that authenticity cannot be realised without first a thorough and honest evaluation of ourselves – with our massive shortcomings – and the environment we are living in. This should compare well with our view of our desired future to the least, or our ideal world if whatsoever achievable. Fifth, all of us should take charge. We all belong. In our belonging, we are responsible for each other. There is no better way of showing responsibility for each other than in ensuring no harm, ensuring sustainability, and not shying off from facing of with the difficult issues that surround us. And finally, taking charge of the future. Of course, we need to have civilised people to take charge. Hopefully, be the end of this, we will all be aspiring for quality, timely and meaningful delivery.

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