The Empire and the century/Education in South Africa



In the history of South African education the dates which mark the beginning and end of the period under consideration have a special significance. On the conclusion of the first British occupation of the Cape Peninsula in 1803 the Batavian Republic sent out as Commissioner-General a man of remarkable individuality, who endeavoured to put into practice ideas much in advance of his time in all that relates to schools and their organization. Whether regard be had to the training of teachers, the education of girls, local school-rates, or freedom in the matter of religious instruction, De Mist's ordinance aimed at creating completely new school conditions. The Dutch farmers opposed these innovations; the new English administrators of 1806 preferred to leave the new to grow out of the old, rather than to complete an educational reform which perhaps seemed to them to smack too much of French revolutionary ideas. Thus many of De Mist's regulations are only now in course of practical fulfilment. No less important is the date at the end of this period, when, owing to the inclusion of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State within the pale of the King's dominions, modern English conceptions of the duty of the State in regard to education are gradually transforming the school systems of the new Colonies, and are even reacting upon the systems of Cape Colony and Natal. The few years which form the close of the period 1805-1905 will ever be associated educationally, as in other ways, with Lord Milner's tenure of the office of High Commissioner. Midway between these two dates occurs a third of scarcely less importance. In 1854 representative institutions were granted to Cape Colony, and in the same year Sir George Grey became its Governor. It can scarcely be doubted that the Education Act, which eleven years later established the school system of the Colony on so permanent a basis that no fundamental change was again made until the Act of the present year came into force, was the outcome of representative institutions. But the foundation of the Board of Public Examiners out of which has grown the present University of the Cape of Good Hope, and, again, the great development of industrial and other schools for natives, must be put to the credit of Sir George Grey himself. As head of the State, he provided impartially both for the highest and the lowest type of education in the Colony.

In so brief a survey as this it is useless to attempt to multiply dates. Accordingly, the growth of educational facilities in South Africa will be considered at the beginning, towards the middle, and at the end of the assigned century, and not, in a general way, at intermediate points. Again, for the sake of conciseness, this growth will be described in respect of (1) amount, both as regards quantity and quality; (2) distribution, not only over different areas, but as between European and other classes of society; (3) public control, both central and local, as well as private control. And, last of all, some attempt will be made to trace the growth of educational ideals during their hundred years.

In 1807 the Education Commission, as enlarged under De Mist's ordinance, reported to the new English Government that there were the following schools under its immediate inspection: a Latin school for boys (in which French also was taught) of 7 pupils, a girls' school of 25 pupils, and 'the common Dutch schools' with a roll of about 800. Only the first two of these were aided financially by the Commission. To the foregoing list must be added the schools which the Dutch Reformed Church was accustomed to open whenever the number of its congregation in any district warranted its building a church, and there were doubtless other private uninspected schools. The medium of instruction was Dutch; nor was any radical change in this respect made until 1822, when English took its place as the official language of the Colony.

In 1859, when the first Superintendent-General of Education retired after twenty years' service, it appears that there were nearly 200 schools under inspection in Cape Colony, with an enrolment of 18,000. To these schools must be added a considerable number in Natal and in the recently created Republic of the Orange Free State; but all, or nearly all, of these ranked as private uninspected schools, since education outside Cape Colony was not yet thoroughly organized. The medium of instruction in the schools of the Republic was chiefly Dutch. No attempt to train teachers locally had been successful up to this time, but the quality of the instruction was gradually raised by the introduction of teachers from Scotland and elsewhere—men whose upbringing in Presbyterian beliefs made them acceptable to the Dutch inhabitants of South Africa.

In 1904 the number of inspected schools in all the British South African States and territories had risen to about 4,000, and the number of scholars to 220,000 or more. With few exceptions the medium of instruction is now English, but the Dutch language occurs as a subject of instruction. Cape Colony, the Transvaal, and the Orange River Colony make some provision for the training of teachers locally. Teaching of University standard has for many years been provided in the South African College, the Division College at Rondebosch, and the Victorian College at Stellenbosch; but the quality of the instruction provided in each suffers from there being so many establishments within a comparatively short distance of one another, each with its separate staff of professors, and two of the three supported on denominational and racial lines. The Huguenot College for Women situated at Wellington has more recently offered teaching of a similar character, and it is clear that the Rhodes College at Grahamstown, the Grey College at Bloemfontein, and the Transvaal Technical Institute will soon take rank as important centres of University instruction. Besides controlling the examinations for almost all the degrees and diplomas at these institutions, the University of the Cape of Good Hope, through its school examinations, has a preponderating influence upon the curriculum and methods of teaching in the many secondary schools in South Africa, and even affects the teaching in primary schools. During the final years of the existence of the South African Republic, a considerable number of teachers trained in Holland were brought into the Transvaal. In the course of the late war, when nearly all the ordinary schools of the Colony were closed for a longer or shorter period, most of these teachers returned home or found other employment. But, with the rapid increase in what may be called the extraordinary schools of the war period—namely, the concentration camps—it became necessary to introduce into the new British territories a large number of thoroughly trained teachers from Great Britain and her Colonies. Besides those selected in Cape Colony and Natal, one hundred teachers were brought from Canada and Australasia, and more than two hundred from the United Kingdom itself—all within the space of one year. These teachers were well received by the parents of scholars, and already have had a decisive influence upon the quality of the teaching in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony.

As regards the distribution of schools, account must be taken of the peculiar conditions of South Africa, which until lately have made pastoral farming the main industry of the country. The abnormally large extent of country necessary to carry a given amount of stock had led to farms being placed far apart, and thus to the creation of very small towns at the furthest limit from one another which would allow the farmers to dispose of their produce and to complete their marketings in a reasonable time. Thus, while schools could easily be provided in such villages—often distant thirty or forty miles from one another—it was a task of extreme difficulty for Government to extend any sort of educational help to farmers living at a distance from centres of population. Within a few years of the beginning of the permanent British occupation, it was proposed to send four itinerant teachers to the remote and thinly-inhabited districts of which Somerset East was then a type. In the second half of the century under consideration, the railway lines began to be a chief factor in determining larger aggregations of population, and the undenominational day-schools of Cape Colony fell into three classes, corresponding to the range of education appropriate to towns, villages, and country parts. Indeed, so dominant became the influence of the railways that a distinct class of schools under railway management sprang into existence. To these centres of instruction were transported, free of cost, not only the children of the gangers and other employés, but also the sons and daughters of Dutch farmers living near the railway line. One other class of schools in sparsely-populated areas deserves to be mentioned here, namely, district boarding-schools. Rough lodging and a teacher were provided in certain places where boys could not get to school on other terms. As a rule they brought with them some of their food, and returned home at the end of each week's instruction. But in spite of these and other devices, the problem of dealing adequately with the instruction of a country population possessing so few natural means of communication remains as yet unsolved.

A difficulty of another kind presents itself in a rapidly growing mining community, such as that of Kimberley or Johannesburg. It is not easy to anticipate in which directions the town will extend, and even if school accommodation keep pace with the increase in children of school age, the constant change in the actual families living in any one district makes it difficult for teachers to obtain a real knowledge of individual children. In Johannesburg the failure of the South African Republic to provide suitably for even the barest educational needs of the Outlander population made the task of the new Government still more difficult.

In the distribution of schools it was manifestly the first duty of the various South African States to make provision for the white population, and from what has been said it should be clear that this was no easy matter, and that it is still imperfectly accomplished. The provision of schools for natives and other coloured people has been left mainly to various missionary agencies, the first society to undertake such duties being the Moravian. Before the British occupation there appear also to have been slave children in the public elementary schools of Capetown. As in the case of other pupils, they were instructed in the tenets of the Dutch Reformed Church. There was also a 'Slave Lodge' school. The first half of the century of British dominion was marked by the increase of 'mission' schools aided by Government. A leading feature of such schools was that white and coloured children were often taught together.

The second half of the century was marked by the institution of special schools for aborigines, and by the gradual separation of white from coloured scholars in other kinds of schools. Thus, having regard to their origin, the historian can easily distinguish between the two classes of schools termed 'mission' and 'aborigines.' The one class embodied the ideal of the earlier Christian missionaries in South Africa, that there should be no social distinctions founded on differences of colour or race. The second class of schools was the result of more ample experience on the part of administrators as to the deterioration which both white and black races undergo through undue and ill-defined association with one another. It is noteworthy that some of the latest statistics for Cape Colony give the percentage of scholars in mission schools who are below standard (i.e., in the infant classes) as 64, while in the schools for aborigines the percentage is only 52. In both cases the number of older scholars who are in the infant classes is quite abnormal, and this, coupled with other depressing features of these schools (such as the low standard of training of the teachers), makes the educational statistics of Cape Colony appear less satisfactory upon the whole than they would appear if only the white scholars were under consideration. There is no doubt that, in the past, the admixture of coloured children with white has been one of the chief causes tending to arrest the mental development of the latter. The enrolment of scholars in mission schools and schools for aborigines for the third quarter of 1865 sufficiently indicates the small beginnings of the new system: in 'Government' and 'aided public' schools, 4,908; in 'aided mission' schools, 16,723; in 'aborigines' schools, 2,302. The corresponding figures for 1904 are 49,109, 53,584, and 38,768 respectively. It should be noted that this distribution or classes of schools according to races is also largely a geographical distribution.

The control of schools has always been a vexed and complicated matter, and nowhere more so than in South Africa. If a third cause were to be named, side by side with the configuration of the country and the admixture of coloured races, to account for the slow progress of education in that country, there could be no hesitation in saying that denominational rivalries have been a principal obstacle in the way of an efficient national system of schools. The influence of those rivalries has been increased by the fact that the principal line of Church cleavage between the white settlers is the same as the principal line of race and language cleavages. To this cause must be assigned the constant and bitter struggle for the control of the schools, the evil effects of which have been experienced by generation after generation of the South African population. In Natal, as is natural, this conflict is least marked. Her policy is more and more to adopt a Government system of schools, in which teachers occupy the position of Civil Servants, and this course is warranted by the small number and the distribution of the white population. In Cape Colony the general tendency has been to encourage voluntary effort on the part of parents and others, and by means of grants of public money to bring each school so formed into direct relation with the Education Department. This system was also well marked in the South African Republic. In the Orange Free State it was tempered by the grant of considerable local powers to district school boards. When these two States became part of the British Empire, the need of rapid reconstruction of the whole machinery of government led to a purely governmental system of schools for the white population. As much of the central control is now being transferred to local authorities as is consistent with the security of tenure of the teaching staff, and with the amount of local financial responsibility which the authorities in question are able to undertake. It was not to be expected that a school system which within three years of the end of the war gave the new Colonies nearly twice the number of children in school that were there before the war would not arouse some of the denominational bitterness already spoken of. But in the Orange River Colony the guarantees offered by Government for the local control of education have satisfied those who at first gave expression to their dissatisfaction by founding private schools, and there is reason to think that all parties and Churches will now work for the development of a national system of education. In the present year Cape Colony has passed an Education Act which tends in the same direction. These are hopeful signs for the future, not only in the Colonies mentioned, but also in the Transvaal.

Enough has now been said about the actual conditions of education in South Africa during the past century. It may still be useful to trace some of the changes of ideals within the same period. As a rule such changes take place in response to the development of educational thought in the United Kingdom or some other European country, but not at the same time as that development, and not without modifications. There is always more or less retardation, so that when, for instance, a vicious principle has been rejected by educationalists at home, it may still be found bearing unsound fruit in South Africa, or, indeed, in any other Colony. In the first half of last century, as the rapid advance in the means of scientific measurement led to triumph after triumph in modern engineering, it was hastily assumed that the educational results achieved by every class of teacher could also be accurately determined through such agencies as examiners and inspectors, and that in that way rapid strides in the progress of scholars might easily be secured. In higher education this false principle led to the establishment of the University of London on certain lines which have only been refashioned in recent years, and on the same model the University of the Cape of Good Hope was avowedly formed, and still continues to do its work. At present one of the most marked educational tendencies in South Africa is to break away from the restraints of the examinations of the Cape University and to develop such teaching institutions as the South African College and the Transvaal Technical Institute into independent Universities in all but name. In lower education the same erroneous idea of the value of accurate measurement still affects the character of the inspection of primary schools in more than one of the South African States. A revolt against such conditions of work is a marked feature of educational thought in these Colonies.

A second remarkable instance of change in ideals within the period under consideration is the view now taken by many thoughtful colonists as to the education of aboriginal natives. In the early days of last century the doctrine of the brotherhood of man and the cause of the emancipation of slaves were steadily gaining ground. It was then assumed that the coloured races would without any coercion readily assimilate the customs and the ideas of their white neighbours, and might therefore be placed under the same laws. Now it is becoming understood that, just as we have to discover new methods of securing the advance in learning of boys who are no longer subjected to the constant, and even cruel, use of the rod, so in the place of slavery fresh incentives are needed to induce negroes and other coloured people of Basuto origin to adopt our industrial standards of life. It is clear that some of the conditions of civilized existence repel the great majority of natives, just as there are conditions of their life which prove repugnant to the white races. Only through education, and only then in the course of a good many generations, will any general transformation of native customs take place. Meanwhile, it is generally recognised that the more distinct the schools for the two races are kept the better for the welfare of both; and this principle has been extended even to Cape Boys and British Indians.

The only other notable movement of thought in connection with the school systems of South Africa to which allusion will here be made is the movement towards federal action of the various States. To begin with native education, the South African Native Affairs Commission has recently reported in favour of the establishment of an inter-State native college to be subsidized and controlled by the Colonies jointly. Such a college devoted to the higher education of present members of the coloured races for all practical careers open to them would have an immense influence in assimilating to one another the school aims of the various education departments so far as natives are concerned, and in making them feel that behind all attempts of the white man to ameliorate their condition is to be found an essential unity of purpose. In the past nothing has been more conspicuous than the want of union of States between themselves (and of Churches between themselves) as to the right means to be used for the advancement of the native population.

This federal action promises to extend to the education of the white races also. Already since peace has been established two important conferences have been held between the chiefs of the various Education Departments, and a common syllabus of instruction in elementary schools has been agreed upon for the Transvaal, the Orange River Colony, Natal, and Rhodesia. In higher education, especially in all that relates to technical and University education, the same tendency to co-operation has been shown on the part of these Colonies; and though there may be periods of retrogression as well as periods of advance, it can hardly be doubted that never again is there likely to be the same isolation of the various Governments of South Africa in educational matters as existed in the past.

But for the full realization of these common aims, and for the preparation of South Africa to act as a unit in any general discussion of the educational ideals of the different parts of the British Empire, one condition, to which allusion has already been made, must be kept steadily in view. The aims of each State must not be distorted through denominational or racial antagonism, but must present, as far as may be, a homogeneous character. Nothing will so certainly conduce to this end as the adequate training of all South African teachers, each staff of teachers in its own Colony. No wise man wishes colonists in their youth to be taught to take the purely British point of view. But if thoroughly trained colonial teachers cannot be found, it will always be necessary to introduce many such teachers from home, and so to provoke a reaction on the part of one section of the population by too great insistence in schools upon the views of the Mother Country. South African children should understand that in ordinary circumstances it will be for them, when they grow up, to defend the colonial point of view against the point of view of Great Britain, if that be necessary, and that it is only in times of real strain to the Empire that they must sink all differences of opinion and stand shoulder to shoulder for their common interests. These views can never be properly inculcated unless the schools are staffed chiefly with colonial teachers, and this is one of the main reasons why each State should make the adequate training of teachers born and educated within her own borders the primary consideration in her educational system.