Free Education Planning Group presentation at South Peninsula High School

30 June 2017

The Free Education Planning Group presented to the grade 11 and grade 12 pupils of South Peninsula High School on Tuesday, 27 June 2017. We received a warm welcome from the school and had exciting discussions on free, decolonised education with both the students and academic staff. The high level of engagement from the pupils of South Peninsula High School on the topic of free, decolonised education reflects the rich history and culture of political activism that is embedded in the school.

Our discussions with the students were impressive, with many of them asking in-depth and complex questions regarding the current state of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), issues around the sustainability of free education, and questions about the ‘missing middle’. The above are some of the key issues that the Fees Must Fall movement is constantly being confronted with, hence the creation of the six models for funding higher education.

The foresight of these pupils is remarkable as they displayed a good understanding of the complexity of the issues that Fees Must Fall is confronted with. Furthermore, the high level of enthusiasm and support from the academic staff was inspiring as they see the true value of free, decolonised education. This is shown in how the staff took ownership of the free education narrative by engaging the pupils with these issues prior to our arrival, as we were told that some students had already been reading the Free Education Planning Group summary booklet.

Some key questions and issues covered in our discussion included:

  1. To qualify for NSFAS, the cut off is an annual income of R122 000 per household. As a result, a lot of ‘middle class’ students are excluded from this funding. This directly affects some of the students of South Peninsula High School because despite the school being located in the more affluent suburbs of Diep River, a number of these students have to commute long distances from where they live to receive the quality education that the school offers. Most importantly, these pupils do not necessarily come from rich households, with only some identifying as middle class. Therefore, they are aware that many of them would not be able to afford university fees.
  2. The students recognised the nuances that exist within the middle class where there is an ‘upper middle class’ and ‘lower middle class’, therefore the affordability and experiences of the middle class are not the same.
  3. How do we ensure that free higher education is quality education?
  4. How do we fund free education in the current economic junk status that South Africa is in?
  5. Who will help fund higher education?

The pupils and staff of South Peninsula High School were extremely appreciative of our presentation, with some of the students expressing their appreciation after the presentation and asking for further engagements. The school staff were similarly appreciative and willing to build a relationship with us to help expand our discussion to other communities and schools.

The involvement of these pupils is inspiring and it shows that our youth is dedicated to eradicating the gross inequalities that persist in our society, to create a truly free society whereby all of its people have equal access to education that is representative, and education that enhances the human development of our people.

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