Chatting to a Cuban mathematics teacher several years ago, she casually observed that South Africans have a tendency to call large meetings and talk about issues that should just be attended to as a matter of course. She was seconded to our country by Cuba to help with the teaching of this gateway subject in South Africa.
We have just entered what we call youth month. You can be sure we will be making quite some noise on our radio stations, television and print media about issues pertaining to the youth. And yet what we actually do for youth development is mostly inadequate, poor or even injurious.
On the 40th anniversary of the tragic June 16, the state will no doubt organize big events at various venues where the youth would be encouraged to dance to loud music and large streams of alcohol would flow down their gullets. In what way does this build the character of our young people and make them better citizens of our country?
June 16 is supposed to be a sombre event that requires all of us to pause and ponder the immense sacrifices made by our people during that tragic episode in our history. We are the only society in the world that commemorates painful events in their history by getting drunk and dancing on the graves of their dead.
Recently, a frustrated Grade R teacher showed me a video she had taken on her phone of her rowdy and totally uncontrollable and “unteachable” class of 75 children. The class was so overcrowded that some of the kids sat on top of desks and on the floor, and there was simply no space for the teacher to move between the desks to reach the children. At that level, it is absolutely important that the teacher is able to reach the individual learners, and where necessary, hold their little hands to help them to write properly.
In that video, one saw children whose learning deficits were being piled up layer by layer. They are loosing their educational foundation and most of them would probably never recover. They would form part of the more than half of black children who drop out of school before matriculation.
If they indeed pass their matriculation and proceed to tertiary education, they would be among those who are so under-prepared that they struggle through their university or college studies. Either they would drop out or would finish well beyond the allocated years for their degree or diploma.
And if they are lucky enough to get an NSFAS bursary, failure would result in the termination of their bursary and financial exclusion from further study by their intuitions. They would probably be part of those students toy-toying for financial assistance to enable them to continue with their education.
We would all be running around trying to find the money, but say nothing about the Grade R children whose educational foundation is being destroyed by us, the adults of this country. Is it because the little ones do not toy-toy that we do nothing about their plight, but run helter-skelter for university students because they are burning things?
The Grade R teacher works in a No Fees school. Hers is not a unique story. These schools are supposed to cater for the educational needs of children in poor communities without the burden of paying school fees.
Talking to teachers in No Fees schools or visiting them, reveal shocking levels of neglect and under-service by the relevant authorities. They would often have no books, chalk, paper and other such things that schools ought to have.
In its most recent Household Survey report, Stats SA reveals that the number of people relying on social grants increased from 12,7% of the population in 2003, to 31,1% in 2015. Whilst it is commendable that we are lending a helping hand to the poor in our midst, the report also implies that poverty levels are increasing. These youth we are failing to educate today would most probably join the social grants queues in the near future.
We should not be reproducing poverty through our education system. Through the educational infrastructure, the teachers in the system and the legion of officials at different levels, we should be producing young people who would not queue for grants, but would earn salaries to support themselves; young people who would not queue for RDP houses, but would build or buy their own houses; young people with skills that would contribute towards the growth of the economy and the prosperity of our nation, and young people who would pay taxes that would enable the state to do even more for the development of the country and its citizens.
The development of the youth would contribute enormously towards the attainment of economic democracy in our country. Otherwise, the economic divide would continue to express itself along racial lines for a very long time to come in South Africa.
Yes, we should talk, a lot. But we should back our words with action.