There is one universal value that seems to be truistic: good, quality education can change the world. For the purpose of clarity and to declare my bias, by education I am referring to formal education in the form of schools and institutions that support the teaching and learning processes of young people and children.
There has been significant research that has shown the link between a country’s development as well as the levels of education and literacy levels amongst its citizens. The idea of educated citizens suggests that when people are educated, they have choices and can make better decisions. According to the statistics from the United Nations, “About 69 million school-age children are not in school. Almost half of them (31 million) are in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than a quarter (18 million) are in Southern Asia.” This suggests that a herculean tasks lies ahead of all people who firmly believe in the right to basic, primary school education for children in impoverished countries. This is not to suggest that education is the panacea for all the problems in the world, but structural changes in government are largely dependent on education reforms.
When one considers the education system in South Africa, education reforms are yet to happen. A moral panic has set in amongst those who are directly affected by the quality of education in the country. One of the symptoms of South Africa’s poor education system are the number of unemployed (and often unemployable) young people. Young people (between 24 and 30 years old) form the largest bracket of the population and are also the group that is largely affected by poor education; with a large number emerging from 12 years of education with few or no options for success. For people living and experiencing South Africa, this is nothing new and the consequences of this situation have been discussed to the point where we are becoming desensitized as to the magnitude of the problem.
When we consider the importance of education in a developing country, it is about imagining the future of the country. In South Africa, much ink has been spilled on the idea of transforming education but the daily experiences of teachers and students in poor(read black) schools suggests that the basic right to education is still being eroded. The cacophony of dizzying headlines suggest that the problems in our education system are insurmountable. But this is not the case.
One of the solutions that keeps creeping into the discussion around education has been the recognition that without more civic involvement, education transformation cannot happen. Altruistic forms of involvement from all citizens needs to be established in our communities in order to ensure that the education system improves for all. A simple example can be seen in the principle of “each one teach one” where individuals with resources (time or knowledge) take it upon themselves to avail these resources to others for the advancement of education and learning ” (this is a principle that emerged in America when slaves were seeking emancipation and they did this by teaching each other to read). Another consideration is the responsibility of the educated elite in any country to consider ways of creating opportunities for themselves and others through entrepreneurship or social entrepreneurship. Where the value of the teaching profession is deteriorating (unless one is teaching in a privileged school), one cannot help but wonder where the teachers for the next generation will come from. I have often asked the learners I teach who will teach their children if they will not consider teaching as a profession.
I do not have any answers for the changes that need to happen in order for education to be a meaningful right to citizens in South Africa and the world. I have only considered a few solutions that are not groundbreaking. Education is everyone’s responsibility, not only those who stand in front of learners as teachers or as administrators in district offices. Until education gets civic support and communities organise around the schools in their communities, ensuring that the children in those schools get the kind of education that can provide meaningful opportunities; as we say in isiXhosa, kusekusasa (it is still daybreak, there’s a long hard road ahead).