by Tony Saunderson


Educator by desire

Jonathan Jansen
Prof Jonathan jansen
Outspoken, passionate about education and driven by desire, Professor Jonathan Jansen, vice chancellor of the University of the Free State, got into education “by accident”, partly because he “had to”. But today he says it was the best thing he could have ever done – as he continues his lonely struggle for better education for all.
Jansen expresses his disappointment in the education system post-1994: “This was not our dream; we had a dream about a school system that would be equal, democratic and decent – providing the youth with the same quality of education. But that didn’t happen, and now we have a bigger divide in education – not race-related, but in relation to class. So you have the privileged white and black kids in better schools and a mass of black kids in the disadvantaged schools.” 

He highlighted the situation in schools in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo. “In these provinces the situation is very bad. None of us expected this; we all expected good governance, daily teaching, strong leadership and a liberated curriculum. That was the language we spoke. Today, we have an absolute mess.” South Africa has battled with a debilitating skills gap, which has forced us to import skilled workers. 

“We had to engineer the growth of skills at UFS [University of the Free State]. We were a typical disadvantaged university in many respects. We had to make the call to increase  the entrance requirements and create second-chance opportunities.

“We now have a whole campus dedicated to second-chance opportunities. In other words, we were not going to buy into the national game and celebrate mediocrity. 

“But it is going to hurt us when the talent pool becomes too thin. I think we’re heading toward a massive crisis, especially with young black boys. They are dropping out by 500 000 in a cycle between Grade 1 and 12. Where do you think they’ve gone? Did they simply disappear? No, they are still here, but in gangs and in prisons – in situations of hopelessness. That is the single most important threat,” warns Jansen.

Many of us tend to believe that the role of economics is one of the most important threats; that black parents cannot afford to send their children to university. Students go to university with great expectations – but when they cannot pay their fees, they drop out. 
Jansen sees this in a different light and does not think that’s the problem. He says most people will be surprised at how much money goes into supporting talent at university level in South Africa, and that poorer students with good marks do get funding.

“I don’t know of a student who has had good marks and applied for funding, but did not get it. These students come to see me every day. The private sector funding for bursaries and scholarships in this country is on a good level. I can list a number of companies 

supporting this. 

“The money is there – the problem is that it’s probably not enough. This is true for any country: no country can say it has enough money for tertiary education. 

In 2011, the UFS was the focus of bad publicity with the racist Reitz Four initiation video debacle. It is clear that much has changed since then.

“Hundreds of people, strangers and famous people (such as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and Oprah Winfrey to mention but a few), pass through the university and they all leave the campus with the same comment. They say it’s such a happy campus,” notes Jansen. 

“Young people have an enormous capacity to hope and to heal. We – the parents, the older generation – are the ones with the baggage. I still can’t believe how incredibly generous, forgiving and committed young people are. If we can just get our act together – as government, universities and civil society – young people can make this a great country. But it all depends on us.”
comments powered by Disqus


This edition

Issue 58