Our Children’s dreams are in our hands(The Herald)

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Students in South Africa are paying a huge price for the mismanagement and continued crisis in our education system. Eighteen years after the advent of democracy, I can only agree with Dr Graeme Bloch: “Where students should expect opportunities and assistance, they find their hopes and dreams crumbling before their eyes, and face obstacles rather than ladders to progress and self-esteem.”

This is confirmed by the findings of National Policy Commission led by Minister Trevor Manuel. In its diagnostic overview, it points out: “Efforts to raise the quality of education for poor children have largely failed. Apart from a small minority of black children who attend former white schools and a small minority of schools performing well in largely black areas, the quality of public education remains poor.”

As Dr Bloch points out, the reality is that education is failing some 80% of school-age children. At their worst, many township and rural schools have been described as sinkholes, where children are “warehoused” rather than educated. South Africa spends R207 billion rand on education, much more than it spends on anything else, and significantly more than what any other African country spends. Yet the evidence consistently demonstrates that our education system is the least productive in the region and that we are simply not getting a return on our investment.

The situation is particularly critical in the Eastern Cape, which has resulted in a much publicised intervention by national government. It is an indictment of all of us that the legacy of ZK Mathews, Rubusana, SEK Mqhayi, Tiyo Soga, Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and other educational giants has been tarnished in such an abysmal way.

 We have to change our game plan

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State Prof Jonathan Jansen believes we need a game-changing intervention that will alter the essential character of dysfunctionality in the majority of schools. Educationist Dr Neville Alexander supports this notion, arguing that our future depends on urgent and wide public participation in education.

Comparative studies on school performance in South Africa and studies of successful practices in countries facing similar challenges show that school performance is crucially linked to the leadership role of teachers, principals and parents.

However, solutions cannot be simple. The problem is multi-faceted and deeply rooted in history. While there may be a few quick fixes, such as better financial management on the part of government, unravelling this puzzle will take much work, thinking, organising, and great effort to build consensus and direction around core priorities.

Nonetheless, each one of us must play our part in turning the current situation around for the sake of our future. We must go beyond political point scoring, brinkmanship, finger pointing and empty rhetoric to consistent, disciplined action from all of us associated with or from the Eastern Cape.

It requires something from all of us

As a tribute to my late father, Wellington Mzwandile Mali, who had a passion for education, I have decided to play my part, however small, in the revival of education in the Eastern Cape.

As a young man growing up in the dusty streets of KwaZakhele, I had my own dreams and hopes: to help bring about democracy in South Africa; to achieve success in my studies; to have a successful career; and to make a difference in society. These seemingly naïve hopes and dreams were frowned on by many, with one notable exception, my father.  He believed that one’s past or circumstances are not a “natural determinant of your future.”

It took a lot to stay positive during those times– there were spells in detention, constant police harassment, and recurring political protest.  A life of political violence and bleakness seemed always to cast a shadow on the future my father repeatedly sketched and demanded.

Through his strict discipline, the support of my family and community leaders, my teachers and principals, and of course, my own determination, I managed to hold on to that dream. I completed my schooling and my university studies here and abroad, am happy and doing well in my chosen career, and now have my own family.  I am able to lead in my sphere of influence and make a difference in society.

However, when I look back, I have only completed part of the mission my father set for me. In the inspiring words of the late US President John F Kennedy, my “private hope and dream” of education can and must be “translated into the benefit of everyone and greater strength for our nation”.

In memory of my father, to commemorate June 16, and to give back to  those that helped to mould me into who I am today, I have decided to invest in the development of education in the Eastern Cape. I have decided to offer financial and material support to all the schools and institutions that helped mould me into the person I am today. These include the following schools and community institutions Ebhongweni, Ezikweni, Ikhwezi Lesizwe, Mzontsundu, Ithembelihle, Newell, Holy Spirit Church and as an alumni, Rhodes University. It is important to note that such financial and material assistance is made in consultation with the Principals, Governing bodies and key stakeholders in schools or institutions.

The financial contribution I make will be matched by my employer, Standard Bank, doubling the benefit to the recipients.

Collectively we can make a difference

But I am just one person and my efforts are not enough to solve the problem. In the end, it’s our collective efforts that will turn the tide, one school at a time, one community at a time. We must all play our roles: principals, educators, learners, parents, communities, corporates, the government, religious institutions and traditional leaders. On top of that, each of us as an individual should try to offer some kind of financial or material support to our schools. I urge all of us who are from the Eastern Cape, who benefited from its education and cultural institutions to do our part in assisting in the revival of our education system. We must join those pupils, teachers, principals, education officials, government and parents who are daily struggling against all odds to make our education system work.

Together, we can change the face of education in the Eastern Cape to fulfil the hopes carried in that wonderful hymn by the Rev Tiyo Soga, “Lizalise idinga lakho”. The future hopes and dreams of our children are in our hands.