School is a chore. This is an attitude shared by many young American students. Personally, I can’t recall being excited to go to school every day for most of my academic career. To a lot of American kids, school merely seems like a bothersome task that they’re forced into doing. However, in South Africa, school is a different story.
We’ve visited two public secondary schools in Soweto, an area in South Africa that mainly consists of poor, black townships. These two schools, Nghunghunyani and Seana Morena, are quite different than the public schools in America. Facilities are rundown, resources are scarce, and organization is poor. Despite this, many students are eager to come to school, even if it means a two-hour walk or ride on unregulated public transportation to get there. These learners desire an education so that they’ll be able to have a worthwhile career in the future.
Although many students are interested in gaining knowledge, the conditions at these schools don’t necessarily engender the best learning environment. Many of the doors and windows at Seana Morena are broken and don’t shut properly. It was a rather cold and windy day when we visited this school, so the broken doors and windows were intermittently slamming shut, then blowing back open. This is just one of the many distractions that learners at Seana Morena face. Students at Nghunghunyani and other schools are met with many distractions as well.
The classrooms don’t have heaters, so during winter the learners must struggle to focus on class while trying to keep warm. Unlike many schools in America, there is no indoor hallway joining the classrooms. Instead, the classrooms are spread across several small buildings, so students must go outside to switch between classes.
Hunger is another challenge that students face. Many students who attend Nghunghunyani and Seana Morena don’t get regular meals at home. For a lot of these students, the lunch provided for them by the school is their only meal of the day. School lunch usually consists of a bowl of soft porridge or pap with an orange on the side.
The students at these schools attend classes day in and day out, even though the learning conditions are less than ideal. When we visited Nghunghunyani and Seana Morena, we were graciously welcomed as guests. Many students we spoke with were curious about America, and expressed interest in visiting or studying there one day. For now, the children’s struggle for education continues.