“To the point! The government is committing a crime…,” was the commentary posted following an article deploring public school conditions in a North African country.
The article spoke about deplorable conditions students face in public schools, especially those now built in rural areas. The article explains that schools are neither heated nor cooled, nor is transport provided. Many students have to walk one hour to school and risk being assaulted on the way. There are no libraries, playgrounds, or lunch facilities. Schools have no money to pay for photocopies or other materials. Students use chalk and slates. Cheating is rampant. The rich are now going to private schools, and those who cannot afford private schools–the lower classes–go to public schools. The author concludes, “Students and teachers want to bring about positive change, and stakeholders provide little, or no support.”
Conditions in the rural public schools ARE truly as described. But is that the government’s fault, as is both implied and stated, by both the author and the commenter? I say NO.
Twenty-five years ago, literacy in the author’s country was only about 35 percent. There were no schools at all in rural areas. In the past fifteen years, the country has built thousands of public schools all over the country, and even in rural and mountain areas that never had them before. They have sent teachers out to all these areas. The students attending are the first generation to have any sort of education at all. In this country, schools and teachers are not paid for by local property taxes (as is the case in America). Schools are financed by the government, and teachers’ salaries are paid for by the government. (Higher education degrees are also free to students and paid for by the government, for students who complete their high school degree.) The current result of all this building and staffing is that the literacy rate in the country has essentially doubled in one generation (67% in 2011, of those over age 15).
At the present time, it appears that it has stretched the country’s finances to build all of these schools and pay all of these teachers. In an effort to contain costs, the country has cut back on some opportunities for teachers to pursue free Masters’ and Doctorate degrees, which has caused numerous strikes and protests by teachers in the past two years. Their main argument, as reported in the news is, “We have our rights!”
Looking again at the current difficult and deplorable state of the country’s public schools, again, is that the government’s fault? Are the schools this way because society and the government do not care? This thinking is faulty. Before public school conditions can improve, the schools needed to be simply built, and staffed with teachers. This building and staffing phase is still taking place, although it seems they have now reached the most rural areas of the country, at least with primary schools, and now with some middle schools. But many more schools are still needed because so many schools are still too far for children, and especially girls, to walk safely. There is not even a thought of trying to provide transportation for public schools. I predict it will be at least another generation before there will be sufficient money for public schools to begin to improve in any of the areas the author of the other article mentions.
Meanwhile, if any parent has sufficient money and resources to send their child to a private school where conditions are better, and can also transport their child to school, why would they not do so? Of course we all want public schools to improve, but why should we subject our own children to a dangerous and poor education if we have the opportunity to do better for him, or her?
There are many private charity groups in this country who organize the purchase and gifting of school bags and school supplies (neither provided by public education) to poor children, because their families cannot even afford to give them pencils. This shows me that there are, in fact, many private citizens who do care about the plight of the underprivileged in this country.
It’s very common in North African countries to blame “the government” for everything that is wrong in society. This blame is misplaced. (If it were not for the government’s efforts this past generation, these schools would not even exist.) Governments, and school systems, are instead, a reflection of a society and its values.
As a Western person living in North Africa, I see that the main objective of the Arab Spring movements is less about toppling governments, and more about throwing out class system privileges and gaining equality of opportunity in life, about creating a meritocracy. The author who is complaining about the deplorable state of public education is actually and correctly wanting his students to have the same equality of opportunity provided to middle-class students.