Dr Mariam Seedat-Khan, a Clinical Sociologist from the School of Social Sciences, was recently invited to be the guest of honour to deliver the keynote address at the Department of Education’s National Senior Certificate (NSC) Excellence Awards in Pretoria.

The Department has been recognising and celebrating districts that have shown consistent improvement or maintained excellent performance across all levels of the system since the first awards ceremony was held in April 2014.

Seedat-Khan paid homage to all school principals saying, ‘You are the backbone of our families, our communities and society. You are the foundation that helps build a literate and a better South Africa. It is you (who have) made personal and professional sacrifices to ensure that our children have the necessary skills to achieve their dreams. We are because of you.’

According to Seedat-Khan, the function of a principal is to reveal talent that is hidden. ‘Principals with their staff perform a number of important social functions that ideally contribute to the smooth operation of society. These include transmitting skills, facilitating personal growth, contributing basic and applied research, integrating diverse populations, screening and selecting the most qualified students for what are considered the most socially important careers,’ she added.

Seedat-Khan believes that principals must focus on the ways that the educational experience is structured to remove the creation that perpetuates advantage and privilege.

‘Schools are not perfect. Not all minds are liberated; students drop out, refuse to attend or graduate with deficiencies and schools misclassify students. We need to draw our attention to issues of inequality,’ she said.

On high-school dropouts, Seedat-Khan argued that they are not likely to expect or aspire to a high income or assume that higher incomes are out of reach and feel that they are a step away from poverty.

‘Someone with a college or graduate degree, on the other hand, will likely expect to live free of poverty and to earn a relatively high salary. Such assumptions match an objective reality,’ she said.

Seedat-Khan sees schools as a source of and a solution to those problems, saying, ‘Teachers’ jobs are complex. Teachers are expected to undo learning disadvantages generated by inequalities in the larger society and to handle an array of discipline problems. You, honourable principals, are not merely a source of authority, or the head of a school, you are a part of every single student that you have ever taught, every learner that you ever assisted, every act of kindness, every act of learning.’

Words: Melissa Mungroo 

Photograph: Supplied