The quality of the education system in South Africa is an ongoing challenge that requires urgent and persistent attention in order to bring about sustainable solutions. This is why Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) is GLAD1 that the Saturday Star addressed the issue in one of its articles.

Saturday Star published a commendable article highlighting one of the many struggles and obstacles that pupils face on a daily basis in the hope of getting a quality education: long distance travel due to lack of well-resourced schools in townships.

The article, titled “Success is a far away place” (31/03/2012, p. 15) tells the story of a seven-year-old pupil, Reabetswe Rakubu, and his mother Tsietso, who wakes her son up every morning at 4.30 am, so that he can make the three-hour-long journey from Soweto to his school in the east of Johannesburg. One of the reasons behind the gruelling trek is to ensure that Reabetswe, like many others, can go to “historically advantaged schools”; often non-existent in townships. The mother is quoted saying: “We made the decision to send him to the school there because we wanted him to obtain the best education we could afford.”

Several challenges affecting pupils and parents regarding the state of education in South Africa are raised in the article. Perhaps the biggest problem highlighted is the absence of well-resourced schools in townships, robbing all pupils, regardless of their parents’ economic status, of the opportunity to access quality education. When they are able to go to the “advantaged” schools, the pupils face another set of challenges, by exposing themselves to the dangers of traffic accidents while spending such long hours on the road, in taxis.  The mother, happy to hear her son has arrived safely at his school each morning, admits that “as a parent there is always apprehension about the time he spends on the road.”

Supplementary to the main article, the newspaper also published an editorial – “What cost for a good education” (31/03/2012, p. 14) reiterating some of the points made in the main article, but ended with a strong statement, warning that lack of investment in fixing township schools and restoring their pride will “exacerbate the inequalities in schools, and in society, if the status quo is allowed to continue – a good education is a right for all.”

Although the main article doesn’t interview any authorities about actions currently being taken to address the absence of quality schools in townships, accessible to all children, the article does reference a study. The study suggests that urgent research is needed to establish the link between school choice and the effect that long travel has on children, in order to “determine the best possible policy response for South Africa.”

Overall, both articles raised an important issue affecting South African children – equal access to quality education – and some of the challenges we need to address in order to achieve this goal. What would have strengthened the article further, however, is if the journalist had interviewed the young Reabetswe and given him the opportunity to voice his views and experiences. MMA always strongly encourages journalists to access children, especially when they are the central subject in a story.

In response to the commentary, editor of Saturday Star, Cecilia Russell said:

Many thanks for nominating Thabiso Thakali for a GLAD.

1. Media Monitoring Africa highlights cases of good and best practice, where the media has promoted the rights and welfare of children, otherwise referred to as “GLADs”, as well as feedback on cases where the rights and welfare of children have been compromised through poor and irresponsible media coverage, referred to as “MADs”