I found out about uTat’Madiba’s passing on the last day of the school term. I wasn’t surprised. We saw this coming. The main theme that seems to reverberate throughout all the tributes to Tata is that we are at the end of an era and how we are going to move forward in this era without the physical presence of Madiba. This is relevant in every sector in society: in the economy, in health and more especially in education.
As a teacher, my favourite quote that puts a spur in my side is a quote by uTata that relates to education: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world … education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”
When I discovered this quote and made it meaningful for myself I realised that education is not the panacea for all the problems in the world but there’s very little we can do in the world without a quality education. Tata’s commitment to education can be seen in his efforts of building many schools and setting up the Mandela-Rhodes Scholarship to support the postgraduate education of young Africans. In 2007 he launched the Nelson Mandela Institute for Education and Rural Development. The role of the institute is to improve the quality of education in rural areas. There’s a level of idealism that one has to have in believing that education is central to changing the world as we have seen with Madiba’s work. In spite of Tata’s efforts and the education reform that began in the early 1990s, it seems the education system has failed more than any other sector in South Africa today as the success of the education system has a ripple effect on other sectors in society.
During his presidency education reform was set in motion and no-one could foresee the dangers that lay ahead in the form of our current education system. We all know the woes of our education system. How can this happen at a time with focused and quality education research? How can our education system continue to fail when the largest percentage of the country’s gross domestic product is given to the work of education?
A system such as this one requires more than a dependence on government. An individual such as Tata raised money for more than 100 schools. As individuals we may not have the same resources he had but his individual effort teaches us that education is an individual responsibility, civic responsibility for each of us. It might be educating a child who is in need of financial support, volunteering at a school and tutoring, helping set up libraries in poor communities, finding innovative ways of getting involved. The school term has ended but when the new year begins, it would be great to see more than teachers, students, district offices and NGOs getting involved but a more collective response to education.
In less than a month’s time, the Grade 12 matric exam results will be released. I doubt we will see anything different from the previous years. The provinces that have been at the bottom of the ladder will remain there and provinces that buffer the results will perform accordingly. But these will just be numbers. Behind those numbers are real people. Young people whose futures depend on the outcome of the results. People whose lives will prosper or not depending on the education they have received in the public education system. The narrative needs to change. We shouldn’t have an education system that makes us bite our nails in nervousness when results are released but rather one where there is no anxiety because we know we have given our children the best education in the foundation phase.