By Khethelo Xulu
Reading what other young people in the country think about the future and the direction the country is taking is thought-provoking. As a young citizen of the country, I usually follow and participate in such debates. The most recent debate I have engaged in centers on universities’ admissions policies. An article about the admission policy of the University of Cape Town (UCT) kicked off this debate.
It is very important for everybody across political ideologies and backgrounds to engage genuinely with this issue. We are all aware of the history of UCT as a university for mainly English-speaking whites. To date, the university has made significant strides in changing this rather unfortunate part of its history. One of the factors that have contributed to this change has been the utilisation of the admission policy as a tool with which to redress the educational imbalances of the past and the prevailing socio-economic conditions of the populace – predominantly the black people.
We all want to live in a non-racial and non-sexist society as envisioned by the great leaders like former president Nelson Mandela. This does not mean that we should apply the colour-blind mentality as suggested by the Democratic Alliance Students Organisation (DASO). It is an undisputable fact that the majority of black learners attend disadvantaged schools in the townships and rural areas. Given the prevailing conditions in those areas, how does DASO expect these learners to demonstrate the potential to achieve excellent academic outcomes despite an inadequate primary and secondary education? Unless they get distinctions and are in essence “head-hunted” by tertiary institutions, these learners dare not dream about studying at institutions like UCT. Will such a state of affairs not continue to perpetuate the existing class divide, wherein we have a few blacks actively participating in the economy?
Next, I turn to the issue of how we select between a black and a white learner who both went to a private school and come from similar backgrounds. Dr Max Price, the vice-chancellor of UCT, has responded to this question quite extensively. Price has also sufficiently justified the use of race as the best proxy up to now in the university’s admission policy. He offered a rather thorough answer in his two-part article published in the Mail & Guardian on why race has been the best proxy in the university’s admissions policy till now. I will not dilute his eloquent articulation. Instead I would rather appeal to all South Africans to be more patient with each other and be realistic about the time frame within which sufficient progress can be made in levelling the playing field.
Ideally, we should have moved to a system where race is not and will never be the main criterion for selecting a particular student. It is possible to reach a stage where learners will be selected based on their academic performance rather than race. However, this requires that we improve our educational system and ensure that all the learners are on par in spite of the school they have attended. This requires all the stakeholders to play an active role in assisting government to achieve this objective. The increase in the number of black graduates will indeed go a long way in contributing towards this agenda. Young people coming from the rural areas and townships will have positive role models from within their societies; there will be a new breed of parents who care and are able to assist their children with their schoolwork, particularly during early development stages. Instead of moaning about the current admissions policies let’s all be active citizens and participate in the education of our children so that the next generation can engage in this debate more fervently and reach a different conclusion.
Khethelo Xulu is a masters researcher in medical sciences at the University of Cape Town (UCT), a One Young World ambassador, and an alumnus of UCT Emerging Leaders and SA’s Brightest Young Minds. He currently offers career guidance and mentorship to high school students within the Obuka tribal authority outside Empangeni in KwaZulu-Natal.