Four decades of teaching – the hurdles and strides

ACHMAT CHOTHIA

I started teaching in Mitchell’s Plain in 1981 at Westville Primary – and it was a step up from the prefabricated (plankies skole) township schools.

In the early days, schools were being built at a rapid pace to accommodate the huge influx of new pupils moving into Mitchell’s Plain during the early 1980s. School buildings were brand-new, neat and well-built, with large playgrounds.

Most schools were built from the same set of plans which created uniformity but resulted in a lack of individual character.

Sport and cultural activities flourished and back then, only the two technical schools had halls – Princeton and Oval North high schools. All the other schools had to use the municipal civic centres and church halls for parent meetings, cultural and fundraising activities. School assemblies were arranged between buildings and could not be held in the cold winter months.

The first decade of Mitchell’s Plain was about settling in and developing a community spirit. Residents faced many hardships, with long hours of commuting to work. Many pupils were latch-key children, who had to take care of themselves as both parents were out working to make ends meet. It was expensive to live in Mitchell’s Plain.

The launch of the United Democratic Front at the Rocklands civic centre in 1983 heralded in the new decade of political upheaval and struggle. It impacted on educational activities. During the 1980s, the Mitchell’s Plain Student Congress (MIPSCO) and Western Cape Teachers Union (WECTU) were at the forefront of the struggle for democracy; exposing gutter education and highlighting people’s education.

The third decade of Mitchell’s Plain’s existence – the 1990s – saw the advent of democracy. Education faced many challenges, among them the teacher rationalisation, which led to the loss of about 30 percent of teachers at schools in Mitchell’s Plain. Outcomes-based education (OBE) was introduced. Many teachers took the voluntary severance package (VSP) which resulted in a loss of experienced teachers. Overcrowded classes became the order of the day.

This contributed to a lack of discipline, absenteeism and high failure rates. All stakeholders had to deal with the above challenges which meant that many parents opted out (if they could afford it) and sent their children to ex-Model C schools. This resulted in Mitchell’s Plain schools suffering an exodus of its top pupils and role models, further exacerbating the challenges in education in the area.

The fourth decade, the new millennium, with the 2010 World Cup inspired all of us to take up new challenges. These problems would include integration of different cultures, English as the language of learning and teaching, gangsterism, drug abuse, vandalism, crime, unemployment and many other challenges.

Despite this, Mitchell’s Plain has shown great resilience and co-operation among all role-players and has made tremendous strides, among them the improvement in numeracy and literacy levels at primary school level.

Now, among the successes we can celebrate, are improved matric results, the roll-out of computer classrooms and the construction of numerous school halls, with Spine Road High School having the largest school hall in South Africa.

In 2003 the Mitchell’s Plain bursary fund was established, with other support programmes also being introduced.

I believe we are making huge inroads into tackling our problems in education. I commend the Plainsman for its support of our community by highlighting all of the fantastic achievements. This newspaper inspir-es its audience to emulate success.

* Achmat Chotia is the principal of Glendale Secondary School, a trustee of the Mitchell’s Plain Bursary Fund and Role Model Trust and an executive member of the Progressive Principals’ Association.