Protests surrounding racist hair policies at Pretoria High School for Girls caused much debate about race-related issues at schools around the country including whether or not teachers are able to deal with issues of race and culture.
Teachers at schools including Pretoria High School for Girls and Sans Souci High School in Cape Town, were caught up in the protests as enforcers of school rules seen as being racist towards some students. Such rules include stringent hair requirements that suggest natural black hair is untidy and unprofessional, and being forbidden from speaking their mother tongue at school..
While many schools have begun to revise these issues some teachers have had no previous training on how to deal with race and culture related issues as well as the need for transformation in schools.
Jessica*, a tutor at the Wits School of Education (WSoE) said, “I think the WSoE attempts to cultivate an ethos that is tolerant and accepting of all people beyond racial and ethnic lines amongst other factors.”
Discussions about a variety of topics are promoted at WSoE but Jessica says that discussions surrounding transformation in schools are only just beginning and are difficult to engage in.
“At the moment, instead of issues like race being the core topics of classes or courses, I think they take the form of discussions in a public and social domain,” said Jessica.
“I think for students in the academy, messages about identity are often implicit and covert. Instead, such messages need to be explored through a more explicit and intended forum.” she says.
Nicole Webb, a teacher at Maragon High School in Ruimsig and a former WSoE student said, “Until now it has never been an issue. As a school we are busy revising these policies in case these issues do crop up in our school.”
WSoE students who spoke to Wits Vuvuzela said learning to deal with race and culture issues is practical rather than something they are taught in class.
*Name changed at her request