At the beginning of every year, 1.3 million children begin school in Grade 1 but only 550 000 write Matric. Of these, only 68% will pass. And of these, 25% scrape through with 30s and 40s.
The effective Matric pass-rate in South Africa every year is thus actually closer to 29%.
And this is before we even begin to look at university retention rates and the spine-chilling FET college pass rates. I often say to people that as bad as you think the education landscape in South Africa is, it’s actually worse.
Which brings me to the conclusion that if this is not a YOUTH ISSUE then I don’t know what is.
There is surely no more pressing concern for young people across this country than the dismal state of education that every year systematically robs them of their futures.
How is it then that education will barely feature at this weekend’s ANC Youth League elective conference as representatives of the most influential youth movement in the country meet to discuss their plans for the next four years? Can we not see that the chains of poverty are firmly entrenched in the dysfunctionality of our schools? Do we not realise that the failure of our education system is causing as much damage as the race-based policies of old? Are we so blinded by our personal agendas so as to be unable to distinguish between what will alleviate poverty and what will entrench it?
The ANCYL is absolutely correct and justifed to point out that we need more equitable and more workable solutions to the massive problems of land reform, to righting past injustices and to creating broad-based economic inclusion in this country (you would have a hard time arguing against this) but without the provision of quality education any/every solution will be temporary at best and exascerbating at worst. We simply cannot end poverty without the access to quality opportunities that decent education provides. This is the bottom line and it is a mantra we should repeat over and over again until we are blue in the face – we should NEVER grow tired of saying this.
I guess what is especially puzzling is the assertion that nationalisation and wholesale land redistribution on its own is a solution to poverty. Any potential solution that is not also forward-looking and does not include improving education is tenuous at best. The hard truth is that there are not too many examples around the world, if any, where nationalisation has actually lessened the suffering of ordinary people. At best, the status quo remains the same and all that changes are the ‘elite’ at the trough. But on the contrary, there are countless examples of quality education acting as a springboard towards a better future not only for individuals but for an entire country – look no further than Singapore.
But we don’t even need to look that far, at IkamvaYouth we discovered that the average first pay-cheque of a learner who joins IkamvaYouth, who improves her school marks, who gets into university and who graduates after three years will be 5 times the collective income of her entire household when she first joined IkamvaYouth. It’s as simple as that. In 5 years the cycle of poverty in a family is broken and it’s broken on the back of decent education.
We really need more creative and imaginative thought from our leaders and especially from the ANCYL as the problem of dismal education is a YOUTH problem. The empty platitude that everyone is entitled to quality education is clearly not going to cut it. This really is thus nothing short of a desperate plea on behalf the voiceless hundreds of thousands of young people to make this the number 1 priority in all programmes post this year’s elective conference.
Finally, as this is Youth Day, June 16, we cannot but think of the young people of Soweto of 1976 who so courageously took to the streets and chanted slogans like “Liberation before Education” in front of an intimidating and ruthless foe. Today however, our minds must be unalterable in confronting a foe at least as intimidating and ruthless as before and we ask you to join us in declaring that now is the time of “Liberation through Education”.
Please consider volunteering at an IkamvaYouth branch near you.
Or if you can’t volunteer please consider a financial contribution towards ending poverty.
Or at the very least, please spread the word that we simply cannot end poverty without the access to quality opportunities that decent education provides and let’s hope that this finds traction in the corridors of influence.
* Photo: IkamvaYouth learners picket with Equal Education outside the Union Buildings in April 2011.