In the United States, black learners are seldom taught by black teachers. But when they are, according to research over the last few years, black learners perform better and are more likely to finish high school and consider tertiary education. Black teachers also have higher expectations of black learners than their white counterparts do.
In South Africa most black learners are taught by black teachers. But for black learners in former Model-C and private schools, the experience of black learners in American schools would be familiar.
We don’t have much research here that looks at the experience of black learners in these schools, let alone any empirical data to show the effects a black teacher has on these learners. So we are left with research conducted elsewhere, if not to draw definitive conclusions, then at least to reflect upon and ask ourselves what would it mean if just some of these findings are later to be found true in our schools. What do we have to lose by presuming some of these experiences might be the same?
While research is important and would give us greater insight into solutions for schools in South Africa, we don’t have to wait for the professors and their teams of graduate students to get onto it. We can just ask the learners (or former learners) themselves and listen to what they have to say.
They can tell us what it meant to mostly see white teachers standing in front of the classroom. They can tell us what it meant when they felt these teachers didn’t understand them and where they came from. They can tell us what it means to only see white people in positions of authority. And we can ask the white learners what it meant for them that they never saw a black person with real power in their school.
Sizwe is one of these former learners. He can tell us what he and many like him experienced at school. We can ask and listen. The researchers will catch up eventually.