AfriStock Photography
adele gordon’s rural education photo gallery

Faltering steps

These photos were taken in various rural areas of South Africa − on farms, in the former homelands and in rural provinces. Apart from examining the schools, they raise questions about how we view space outside the urban. South Africans speak of the splendour and grandeur of our rural landscapes but these images reveal another conflicting aspect − dire poverty and people’s struggle for self-sufficiency and autonomy.

The photos cover two time periods: the first, schools on farms and small holdings in Gauteng made twenty years ago and the second, schools in the former Bantustans made after 2003.

Earlier photos (1985 – 1986) were taken at a time of mass mobilisation against Bantu Education. They illustrate the political and economic turmoil of the times and the social and economic conditions of households and communities. Children were often denied access to school. Too many learners performed badly because of dire teaching and learning conditions that took place in an oppressive living environment.

The post-1994 photos also explore relationships between schools and communities, portraying opportunities and constraints facing rural students, their families and teachers.

When first viewing the photos little seems to have changed across the 20 year time span as the past appears to blend irrevocably with the present. Learners in rural schools continue the struggle to study in schools that are badly resourced. Many work before and after school and walk long distances to school. But alongside these ongoing and deep-seated difficulties, changes appear to be taking place. The photos not only illustrate that schools are better-resourced than they were, but also reflect new experiences, such as raising the flag at morning prayers, pasting images of Mandela on classroom walls, and teaching children indigenous dancing. These celebrated icons and valued cultural experiences are becoming an integral part of children’s learning experiences and possibly one day will boost the self-esteem and morale of learners and teachers who suffered so much under apartheid. Perhaps these changes are illustrative of steps towards new goals, even though they are slow, erratic and faltering.