MCEBO DLAMINI: Misconceptions about formal education are misleading SA


Certain things have to be said and some myths must be debunked.

One of those things is that having a formal education makes one an instant intellectual. The fact that a person went to a prestigious school does not translate into possessing superior knowledge.

My observation has been educated people have a condescending attitude towards people without formal education. They have a tendency of assuming that they are the ones who are best equipped to find solutions to the many problems facing the world. It does not occur to them that other people who perhaps were not able to go to school are also thinking beings. To the educated, if you did not go to school, you are inferior and should not be given an opportunity to comment.

You see it in how we laugh at people who cannot speak English. When a soccer player who is not fluent in English appears on screen and is forced to speak the langue, the whole nation laughs. We even forget about the talent of that particular person and focus on their inability to speak in English.

This is quite ridiculous because a person’s mastery of English does not signify intelligence; instead it is a reminder that we were a colonised people. The tendency of putting formal education on a pedestal also ignores the fact that there are many other factors that contribute to people not having that kind of education. There are no schools in some rural areas an poverty contributes to dropout rates and a general unaffordability of universities. In South Africa, the doors of education are not open to us all.

Here I am not trying to suggest that education is not important. It is vital and should be made accessible to everyone. But what I want to highlight is that there are many forms of epistemologies and should all be taken seriously.

There are things that you cannot learn from a university professor that you are likely to learn for your parents. There are lessons you cannot get from a course outline that you might learn from a homeless person sitting in a corner. There are things that you might not learn from a seminar but might learn from the boys standing outside a spaza shop. It is not true that people who exist in marginal spaces do not think about so-called serious things. The idea that those who exist on the margins are only speaking about sex, drugs and alcohol is untrue.

To find solutions to some of the problems we are currently faced, with we must be willing to think together and with each other. We must think with the people who are directly affected by unemployment, poverty and hunger. These are the people in townships, rural areas and other marginalised spaces.

The god complex of the middle class and educated people must be called out. We cannot sit in our cosy offices and then think that we are better equipped than people who have a lived experience of the problem. Just because we received formal education does not necessarily make us better. We might know English but we are not messiahs. The truth is that there are many educated fools.

Mcebo Dlamini is a former leader of student protests at Wits University.

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.