The announcement of the South African matric results are behind us – nothing to trumpet about – and in supermarkets the festive fare has made way for piles of school stationery: files, diaries pens, rulers, pencils, calculators, coloured pencils, writing pads and so on. Colour supplements printed on glossy paper fall heavily out of newspapers, from those with a national readership to our small town bugle. All lavishly illustrate ‘back to school’ specials such as lunch boxes, back packs, water bottles and pencil cases.

Government officials have been quoted in the newspapers mouthing the need for improving educational standards. A recent report highlighted progress being made in providing some Eastern Cape schools with running water, electricity or toilets. Now, wouldn’t you have considered these basic necessities all teachers, pupils and parents should be able to take for granted?

‘Mud schools must go’ called a recent headline. Parents are again up in arms about the ever-increasing cost of school uniforms. A news report today complains that in some areas teachers are tired of using their own money to provide for the stationery requirements of the pupils they teach.

Despite annual promises that in due course all schools will be headed by a principal and that more teachers will be deployed to fill the long-standing vacant posts, a feeling of weltschmerz persists. No brand-new uniform, back pack, or pencil case filled with sharp, shiny pencils and new pens is going to forge a difference between the ideal state and the physical reality of unkept promises or the lack of decent facilities and professionalism across the board.

This apathy, this world weariness, this weltschmerz, has seeped through the cracks of the public education system to its core. It is true that some teachers successfully battle against the odds – newspapers have lauded some of the most unlikely government schools for attaining 100% matric pass rate or for producing individual matriculants with outstanding results in mathematics or the sciences – while others will face the new academic year with reluctance in the knowledge that they will be doing the same, the same, the same, with no incentive to truly make a change. For many it is an uphill battle they are unwilling to take on. The children will fall further and further behind, lose hope and will eventually fail to pass the hurdle of obtaining a decent matriculation certificate that could open doors to a brighter future.

Private education is another ball game altogether.

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