In loco parentis — or just plain ‘loco’?
MANAGERS, so business schools teach, must cut loose their unprofitable units and let them die quietly. It is best not to devote resources and personnel to lost causes; best concentrate on what we know works and pays. Right?
Why, then, do we flog institutionalised education? It is dead, kaput, finished. It was already useless when Pink Floyd produced Another Brick in the Wall, Part II, which, along with the album, was banned in South Africa in 1980 when it became an anthem for school boycotters protesting against Bantu education.
It was useless in the 1970s too when universities complained that undergraduates did not know how to acquire an education. One response at the time was what the Transvaal Education Department called project schools. In Joburg, King Edward School and Hoërskool Linden were examples. One innovation there was that the department turned libraries into media centres, with overhead projectors and movies in black and white about diets and what to do in case of nuclear war.
That didn’t work, so a lot of students who went to university by virtue of their race and class failed to get through their first year and either married a jock from the engineering department or joined a bank.
Those options are no longer available. Now, with the third iteration of outcomes-based education going the predictable way, universities are lowering standards and creating bridging courses and getting involved in schools to lower the dropout rate in tertiary education. And still the number of youths not in education, employment or training (NEETs) is increasing by about half-a-million a year.
The government and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande are worried about this. It means this year’s allocation for education, R207.3bn, is the single biggest social spending item in the budget, after social protection at R157.9bn, health at R121.9bn and housing and community amenities at R120.1bn.
It means South Africa’s managers are throwing good money at a lost cause. They are working even harder at solving a decades-old problem by doing exactly the same thing again and again, only better, and believing that this time it will be different.
Insane is the word you’re looking for. Insane because institutionalised education is not the problem. The problem is that no institution can raise children in the way that would prepare them for adulthood. That is the work of parents, who in South Africa, as in much of the world where the NEET phenomenon has arisen, are largely absent from their children’s lives. Schools are little more than jumped-up day-care centres.
What is required to prepare children for adulthood is not proficiency in calculus or literary analysis, but a level of social maturity that will permit them to take responsibility for their lives; to be sufficiently developed to take personal responsibility for their education.
What schools and universities are doing is extending childhood beyond what is appropriate. And where parents leave off, the state takes over, in loco parentis, and maintains a state of dependency among NEETs. That way the number of socially immature, uneducated and unemployable dependants will soon exceed the numbers of those who pay the taxes that keep them. South Africa cannot afford that. We must cut our children loose, for their own good.