A new academic year of hope and worry


The journey from Grades 1 to 12 is fraught with equal measure of hope and concern. Parents hope for a quality education that will lead to a better life, but there is also concern for the quality of education and whether our politicians, planners and teachers are doing our children justice. But for many, the concern is amplified by their surroundings. For many school-goers, the journey to school is fraught with life-threatening dangers. Peter John Moses shares his hopes and concerns for his children during the new academic year. 

The new school year is a very exciting time for parents and kids. New adventures lie ahead for the little ones, but in many cases new fears lie ahead of parents. Will my child cope? Is this the  right school? Will they make friends? But for some parents, the moment they see their proud and toothy children in their new school uniforms and over-sized bags wave goodbye, fears of safety and not educational quality are at the forefront of their minds.

From unruly taxi drivers, to long walks, and unsavoury characters that children might come across on their journey, many South African parents have good reason to worry. In particular, for parents on the Cape Flats, this fear is magnified by the gun-toting idiots who care little for the life of your child while they take aim at their enemies. Last year my children – grades 7 and R – were greeted on the first day back at school by the all too-familiar and traumatic experience of gang members shooting at each other. This scene took place less than one hundred meters away from their school’s gates. It was over in an instant and it didn’t stop the school from opening for the day, but the reality of our situation is constant worry. The post-traumatic stress these school children suffer from being caught up in these shootings so regularly is a future worry. The children can often give you a very detailed description of what happened and who did the shooting;  they can even tell you why it happened. At a time when we should be focused on assisting our children to learn, we spend our time and money in protecting them from the crime and violence that surrounds us. If we don’t, who will?

My children and others in schools on the Cape Flats have all been taught to hit the ground and lay flat whenever there is a shooting. They used to have drills for this according to my eldest in case ricocheting bullets find their way into classrooms and playgrounds – bullets which have maimed and taken countless little lives in the past. The schools even got new and improved ‘bulletproof’ fencing provided by the provincial government. I look at all this and wonder out loud if this a fertile learning ground for future leaders to emerge from, or is this just a huge mess that the powers of law enforcement and local government have absolutely no idea what to do with? What has changed since the days I was at school? The only change I see is that there are more gangsters, more guns and more death. More of the wrong and not more of the right.

My eldest son started high school yesterday – another proud moment for us, marred by thoughts of safety. He must travel to school now, making use of the minibus taxis and then walk almost two kilometres to get safely to school. This was  a compromised we made in favour of a better quality education. The school he’s attending has an excellent academic track record and has a healthy balance between academics, sport and the arts. A bonus for me was that there are no reported gang shootings in the school’s vicinity.

Unfortunately, that does not mean that there is no gang activity. If you get into an argument with the wrong child, you could end up facing a tattooed older brother at the gate waiting for you by the time school lets you out. Or you could end up being ambushed on your way to the bus stop to take your taxi home. It is crazy how even 23 years after I finished high school, my eldest son is going to face some of the same challenges I did just so that he can get a solid education. My hope is that history does not repeat itself. I made stupid choices to feel more empowered and protected, I do not want him to do the same. He may not be as lucky as I was in getting through it relatively unscathed.

Like most parents, I wish that I can be with my kids every single minute of the day to protect them from the world out there, but of course this is not possible. It is one of the hardest things we as parents – no matter our socio-economic status – must deal with. How do we let our kids go and face this cruel, dog-eat-dog world on their own?

My youngest has moved into Grade 1. His school has been fortunate enough to be “adopted” by a Scottish NGO which is assisting the school in providing learners with the tools to make their education a success. They’ve put funds into refurbishing the school and helping with all kinds of necessities like stationery, teaching tools, sports equipment and kit, extra teaching and cleaning staff. As a parent, I am extremely grateful to these people for coming in and helping our kids get a better education, but as a citizen I worry that government is failing dismally and if these same organisations decide to move on to something else or some other place then where does this leave future generations of schoolkids?

I am one of millions of other parents in praying that our children make it out of their school years not just with a Matric, employment opportunities and the promise of a better future, but that they make it out alive. We want a  not just safely but well equipped to make this world better than the one we are leaving them. They need more of the right and less of the wrong. SA.

Image credit: Dylan Thomas / UKaid / Department for International Development

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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A new academic year of hope and worry