The Four R’s: Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic and Rugby

©2012 Edward C. Lunnon

Tuesday 10 April 2012: 5 years 7 months on … Advantage CBD

The CBD not only affects me physically. Yes, slowly it paralyses my body and renders me unable to write, but even more alarming is the manner in which it is affecting my ability to do arithmetic and my ability to read. The very things that I spent twelve years at school learning to do are now being ‘unlearnt’!

This past Easter Weekend was a quiet one and we stayed at home, the first time in many years that we have not gone away for the long weekend.

There was more than enough Super 15 rugby and international cricket on TV to watch, and more than enough newspapers to get through. Because it becomes more difficult to read large volumes at a time, I tend to read just a few pages and then leave the rest. Resultantly, the newspapers (two a day – The Herald and The Times) pile up around the house. I was adamant that I would get rid of the backlog this weekend!

The first article I read dealt with a government investigation into health and educational services in the Eastern Cape. Needless to say, both are in a shocking state and frankly, the services are almost non-existent! Then there was an article by the Rector of the Free State University, Prof Jonathan Jansen, in which he corroborated the statement of Mamphela Ramphele, ex-Rector of the University of Cape Town that education was better under apartheid than it is today!

He highlights seven major mistakes* made in education in the last twenty years, and goes on to conclude his article by saying “through a combination of legacy, neglect and bad policy decisions, our educational institutions are indeed in a worse state than before.”

“Scholastic achievement is worse than ever, from literacy and numeracy in the foundation years to the disastrous National Senior Certificate results in Grade 12.”

But then continuing through the newspapers, I read about the Easter Rugby Festivals taking place around the country: the tens of thousands of people who have been attending the matches, the millions of rands being spent on the sport, the numbers of people dedicated to and involved in the sport, the numbers of children (yes, children) who have tested positive for banned and illegal stimulant substances …

Am I reading correctly? Is my disease confusing me this much?

How can it be that in a country where educational institutions are in a worse state and where the levels of literacy and numeracy are declining rapidly, the facilities and money spent on a sport like rugby are increasing all the time?

What is the purpose of these “Rugby Festivals”?

Is it to raise much-needed funds to improve our educational infrastructure (in which case, how much are we raising?), is it to market our schools (in which case, what is the target market and what and who do we attract to the institutions), is it to teach our children the lessons of life (in which case why do they have to abandon a game where parents from two elite schools were engaged in a running brawl, and do only the elite few benefit from these lessons – what about the rest of the thousands of our children?)

Is it simply to entertain or to address our human basic needs to be the best, to win at all costs and to be number one – the modern-day version of the ancient Roman festivals of gladiators and lions?

How can we justify the amounts spent at school level on hospitality and hotels, marquees and martinis, steaks and shrimps, support staff for First Rugby XV’s the same size as smaller international teams and rugby budgets running into millions, when we cannot produce sufficient teachers to educate our children, mathematicians, accountants and scientists to crunch our numbers, medical personnel to doctor our population and engineers to build our roads and bridges?

How can we justify a rugby department in a high school with a rugby director, a head coach, a backs’ coach, a forwards’ coach, a physiotherapist, a dietician and a fitness trainer for a group of twenty players who may never play the game again after school, when we only have two neurologists in a city of two million people with many thousands who have neurological illnesses of some sort or another?     

We wonder why the use of steroids is ever-increasing (and some would say rampant in certain pockets of the country) when the intense pressure of schoolboy rugby is, according to the experts, damaging schoolboys’ personalities, their immature skeletons, their muscles and ligaments and their expectations (and sometimes that of their parents).

Yes, as the Sunday Times put it, “pressure is cooking game for schoolboys”.

Surely, schoolboy sport is ultimately just that. Yet, what these Festivals around the country serve to unwittingly perpetuate is to suggest that the schoolboy game is more important than it is.

I doubt  that you’d get any of the country’s educators, academy scouts and TV producers at these festivals to agree with you!

If you have ever been to Rome, you will have witnessed and marvelled at the Coliseum and the other remaining monuments and reminders to the Rise and Fall of the Great Roman Empire.

“Nero fiddled”, they say, “while Rome burnt”.

Will our ruined stadia and rugby poles, one day, be our monuments and reminders, that we played rugby whilst our country cried out in need?

(* Outcomes-based education, voluntary severance packages offered to teachers, closing of teacher training colleges, irrational mergers of universities, merger of universities and technikons, neglect of mother-tongue education and no basic legally enforceable minimum education standards)

 (with thanks to Luke Alfred for his article “Pressure is cooking game for schoolboys” in the Sunday Times 8 April 2012)