Final Word

Read between the lines of education’s fight to the bitter end


Who can read between the lines of the bitter fight-to-the-end between Minister Angie Motshekga and the masters of education’s trade unions?

That is but one of the many questions posed by the often confusing tug of war between the Minister of Basic Education and the trade unions over the Annual National Assessment tests, or ANAs, in recent weeks. Some other questions are: Is it really about the ANAs or about hidden agendas? And what will the learners learn from observing the whole spectacle?

But let’s get to the basics on some of the terms involved here.

First, why is it appropriate to use the expression ‘read between the lines’ in this context?

With so much politics involved in the battle on the education front, it is interesting to know that the expression goes back to the politics and high society of the 16th century. It is said that it became common practice for politicians, business people, senior military leaders and other members of the elite class to communicate in code.

The purpose was to hide real motives and/or plans from outsiders, especially from common people, who concluded that the real meaning was not in the lines of what looked like or sounded gibberish, but in the spaces between them.

‘Gibberish’ or ‘gobbledygook’, meaning the use of language that is nonsense, or that appears to be nonsense, also made its appearance in the 16th century as an onomatopoeia (imitative of speech) similar to the related words ‘jabber’ (to talk rapidly) and ‘gibber’ (to speak inarticulately).

With all the current infighting between the country’s power elite, there surely is plenty to be read between the lines of all the statements and pronouncements surrounding the ‘Battle of ANA’.

And while the battle, with all the disruption it causes at schools and worries for concerned parents, leaves a proverbial bitter taste in the mouth, it is not the same ‘bitter’ as in ‘bitter end’. 

The ‘bitter’ of ‘bitter end’ comes from the world of sailing. It refers to the looping end of a mooring or anchor line around the wooden, or nowadays metal, posts on the ship’s deck. They obviously come into play at the completion of the journey when the ship comes to rest or is moored.

Only time will tell in what sense of the word ‘bitter’ the present Battle of ANAs’ results will deliver – will it be a safer harbour for education or a bitter taste in the mouth for the generation being educated today.

There was a time, not so long ago, when teachers were called ‘master’, as still retained in the word ‘headmaster’ for the head of a school.

First used in English during the 12th century, the term derives via the Anglo-French meistre from the Latin word magister. In its original use it referred to tradesmen who were on top of their trade and in a position to employ others to learn the trade. In short, they were in a position to impart knowledge and skills to others.

Finally, it is also important to have a look at some of the roots of learning and what education should be all about.

‘To learn’ arrived in Middle English before 900 as leren (also found in German) from Old English’s leornian, which also meant to read and ponder. It all can be traced back to Gothic’s lais, with the base sense of ‘to follow or find the track’.

On the same track, ‘education’ derives from the Latin term ēducātiō, meaning ‘breeding, bringing up or rearing’, and ultimately from ēdūcō, ‘I lead forth, raise up or erect’.

On both sides of the divide on the education front, roleplayers in this battle of wills should also keep in mind that they are shaping the future. What the future will hold, look like and be like for the next generation, is in their hands.

by Piet Coetzer

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Final Word

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