Transformation of education still designed to keep the poor out

By Pinky Khoabane

Pinky Khoabane argues that those who design policies for the poor have no idea of a life of poverty and in their attempt to assist those in need, they miss the mark completely….


About a year ago I met a young woman, Thabisile Myeni, through her mother, Phumzile, a domestic worker who works in my neighbourhood.

Thabisile is a bright young teenage girl who works at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I asked her mother why she wasn’t at school and she explained that she had no money to take her to university despite her excellent results.

2016 being the year when the issue of university fees for tertiary level was at an all-time high, I asked Phumzile to bring her daughter’s academic records so that we could apply to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and universities.

Hurdle No 1

 Application to most tertiary institutions is done online. With the cost of data and lack of access to the internet this means many children will be left out of the first stage of a tertiary education. Many if not all will be Black.

Traversing the Internet was not easy for Thabisile who like most people who don’t have computers at their disposal let alone the data to familiarise themselves with the internet, struggle and are intimidated by the computer.

My daughter who is the same age as Thabisile and was in her first year of university, came-in to assist and Thabsile was able to register at several institutions.

There’s a an application fee required at some universities and although some may think R100 is a pittance, it does mean the difference between a meal for many families.

Hurdle no 2 – Application for financial assistance

Again we had to deal with an online application for NSFAS. The information required simply left me with a headache but Phumzile, determined to see her daughter further her education, went back and forth to collect all the information required –  her children’s birth certificates, affidavits of her menial salary, proof that she lived in the mkhukhu that she lived in and so forth. You see, the life of privilege – transport, printing and scanning costs, time at police stations, etc cetera – is completely disconnected to Phumzile’s.

When  all the information was gathered, it was left to Thabisile to upload the documents on NSFAS’ website. We later discovered she had not pressed the submit key and the insititution had not received her information and her application.

Luckily, NSFAS extended the deadline for application and we were able to re-apply.

Acceptance at Universities

Thabisile was accepted at all the universities she had applied which brings us to Hurdle No 3 – Registration.

 NSFAS had not replied and the deadlines for registration were looming and the question was whether they would do so before the cut-off dates.

Wits University required a minimum of R9000 and University of Johannesburg R3200. She didn’t have that money. We eventually put together money for her to pay the UJ registration but we still didn’t know if she would have financial support for the rest of the year. And the dilemma was whether to register with the hope that she got the financial assistance she needed.

NSFAS eventually responded with positive news – that they would fund her tertiary education at the UJ.

And with that news, another Hurdle is on the horison

Our jubilation was short-lived as we were confronted with the reality that faces Thabisile and her family. A single mother of two, Phumzile – a domestic worker – relied on Thabisile’s income to live. Transport, food and the other basic needs now hinge on one salary. Can they actually afford to be at university. Thabisile’s transport between home and university would take-up a third of her mother’s salary.

As Phumzile wept this morning, it was almost clear that Thabisile’s poverty may hinder her educational aspirations – despite the government’s attempts for free access to those who need it.

Ultimately, those who formulate these policies have very little understanding of what it means to be poor. They formulate solutions from a point of privilege – policies which ultimately keep those trapped in poverty nowhere else but in impoverishment.

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  1. A desired move
    Across the landscapes of SA we have many young lacking black school attendees which we has a country must have proper working plan for them.
    Part 1.
    We have schools on the DoE database which are listed as so called disadvantaged schools in rural to peri-urban areas. I believe the DoE must start to develop a strategic plan which can cater for all schools in assessing the number of needy learners and who desire help, which I believe all of them does!
    But what should happen at high school level is that educators must assist in collecting learner living conditions and relevant information to create profiles. Actually this should be happening as from primary school level. The moment a learner is in grade 10 the profiles should be revised in order to track changes. The moment a learner arrive in grade 11 the relevant information have been collected and updated.
    Since not every learner aspire to pursue high education those interested to do so can apply without being asked to prove that there are poor=lacking, which does not make sense!
    Part 2.
    Moving from manual to online processing was an innovative approach but with short comings I must say. Majority of learners are still not well equipped in technocratic changes not even because there are poor but lack of resources in most areas. The online system I believe that if it was created to assist the masses in order to fast-track and reduce corruption, most high school learners will be eager to apply. But I should highlight this that the system is too sided and having different purposes, which I believe people are aware of. Collection of data and verification goes hand-in-hand and you must understand that some system developers compete on this. What kind of the system the DoE selected and does it still require more people on the other side? There are a lot of processes which takes place here. Even wise policy makers must select best systems in terms of accuracy, speed of processing and so on. In this case I believe there are aware of challenges which brings us to manual processing NSFAS applications and which speaks direct to the institution a learner have been accepted from.
    Part 3.
    Education should move away from developing and adopting systems which seek to filter the rich among poor=lacking masses. A best way to avoid such challenges is to tackle the benefit which comes with the selection of such systems. In actual fact the DoE should have a system that include all institutions across SA to create more opportunities. Rich and poor=lacking should not exist when it comes to education. Why? Wisdom is a principle thing and does who find her prospers! We all have a part to play in this beautiful land.
    Apologies on any grammar mistakes cause I write better on my mother’s tongue!

  2. We have failed our children and robbed them of their future for far too long!

    “# Fee Must Fall”

    1976 our brothers & sisters died fighting this course,for transformation & accessibility & equal education which the apartheid regime deprived us of.

    Did we not take a lesson from this ? We are running out of time & driving our kids to a state of rebellion similar to 1976.

    Urgent solution & resolution is long overdue!

  3. The reality is that the long hurdles of trying to comply with these policies is really keeping the impoverished out of varsity. My brother’s daughter has attained straight A’s last year, yet she seemingly has to spend this year loitering around without acceptance at varsity because my brother could not raise the registration fee, and also, NSFA5 took for eternity to respond.

    The gala dinner that was planned by the MEC for education to award financial assistance to top Matric learners never materialised, or it was selective, although this learner was illegible as per her Matric results.

    Some paper work is really not necessary to be included in the application and is costly. The registration fee also must be covered by the financial aid (NSFAS).

  4. I can’t act like I know the struggles of being in povery but I know what it’s like to be raised by a single mother going from loan to loan to get me where I am.
    I also know what it feels like when the same woman can’t take out anymore loans so me as the first born has to step in and take over so that my younger sister can get to where she wants to be proud to say she’s 1 semester away from finishing. In the meantime those loans – well- will be worth it in the end. Hope Thabisie realises her dreams.

    1. Eish Tumelo. You just put the struggles as they are. It’s heartbreaking but as you say, well worth it at the end. In every struggle are hurdles, this for Thabisile is just one of those she has to face for now but never give up.


      UnCensored Team

  5. So sad. They talk about using plain language. Look at the documents you have to fill in. That sometimes require you to have a lawyer to complete. Most policies government make is against black people. Our government must radically change things. This cannot continue. What are we gonna do? We dare not accept things as it is. It is in our hands.

    1. Dear Jannie

      These policies are written by the educated people – sadly, they cant put themselves in the shoes of the people for whom they have written the policies. Even the ones who lived in poverty forget when they get up there.

      This notion of radical transformation is become a buzz-word but it is stories like this one that bring it down to reality.

      Good question – what are we going to do? Hope you can brainstorm and give us ideas and solutions.

      Kindest regards

      UnCensored Team

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