Dumi Magadlela
Dumi Magadlela

Superman, at a school near you…

The “village” and your family are supposed to be the first school everyone is exposed to. They’re supposed to teach us the fundamentals of living harmoniously together and sharing this world with others. But both the school and family are fighting for their very survival in today’s so-called modern forms of social organisation. The township street, suburban walkway, park or ever-present mall is not exactly designed for teaching children the ways of our collective and interconnected existence. The school near you is one such place where we can convene and take advantage of the opportunity to collectively raise well-meaning citizens with their minds and hearts in the right place.

Our ways of knowing can be said to be already coloured by the stories we carry from our past. We are often told that to make a solid argument about anything, we must have a scientific basis for it. It must be scientifically valid. Development is not an exact science. Some have argued that it is not a science at all. Modern science offers solutions to some of our current development challenges, but it is grossly limiting when it comes to both our inherited and current education challenges. The recently released “diagnostic” document from the National Planning Commission clearly indicates that education and unemployment are among the top national challenges. This blog is an invitation to do something different, starting with the school near you.

I have a theory that I have not scientifically tested yet, and it goes like this: “Every school around the country is a living organism that represents the health of the particular community where that school is located.” The theory goes on to suggest that when that school is dysfunctional, the dysfunction is not really a sign of the failure of the education authorities alone but of the particular community’s dysfunction. Nothing new there, right? Right.

Many of us believe in the resilience of the human spirit, and in our inherent capacity to rise above personal and shared challenges, to achieve our collective goals. This country is an example of that spirit. Where we find ourselves with regards to our education system is terrifying. I have previously been involved in school-governing bodies, and am actively involved in our 16-year-old son’s education. The level of involvement of fellow parents or the surrounding community, in the welfare of the school or in supporting the teachers, especially the lack of support to the school chief executive and the principal, certainly leaves a lot to be desired.

While the family unit carries the primary responsibility for raising well-meaning, well-adjusted citizens, the school can be the focal point and organising unit for positive, responsible and effective social transformation. Each member of the surrounding community must know what goes on in the school.

It does not matter where you fall along the development value chain, or as they say, on the food chain. Sooner or later you will either feel or experience first-hand, the repercussions and impact of abject poverty and poor education, if you have not felt it already.

In terms of unemployment, which is intricately interwoven with education quality, the clear messages from unions (Zwelinzima Vavi), from civil society (Andile Mngxitama), and from other concerned citizens, suggest that if we do not act now, we will soon find it is too late to intervene effectively. We need fool-proof solutions to poverty and unemployment, and now. The government’s recently launched Jobs Fund is one of the freshest answers to the challenge of poverty that manifests itself through unemployment. That too, will only work if we rally around and make it work ourselves as citizens.

The big HOW in fixing the future of our children and of this country lies in the small matter of shifting our mind-sets towards being the solutions we are searching for. Yes, the Gandhi way and what other leadership and social transformation gurus have taught over centuries: we are the leaders we have been waiting for. The Americans have the Superman phenomenon, and someone over there recently produced a movie called Waiting for Superman. If we wait for a superman in our case, we will wait a very long time indeed, and we will have no one else to blame but ourselves. We are our own supermen and superwomen. Our house is on fire, but it is not burnt down just yet. Nelson Mandela said it loud and clear: “It is in your hands to make the world a better place” (Nelson Mandela, in 2008, during his 90th birthday celebrations). Are we really listening?

There is a programme called School at the Centre of Community ([email protected]). It is a non-profit initiative run by an NGO called Symphonia. The founder and leader of Symphonia for South Africa, Dr Louise van Rhyn, indicated that in a nutshell, the programme entails the following:

• A business leader becomes a learning and development partner to a school principal.
• Together they are tasked with one of the toughest challenges facing our country: to engage parents and other members of the community around the school in the school activities.
• The business leader (called a Partner for Possibility: PfP) and principal are supported through formal training, coaching and communities of practice.

The benefits are enormous (for the business leader, principal, teachers, parents, learners and for all of us in South Africa). The intention with the School at the Centre of Community ([email protected]) initiative is to roll it out to thousands of schools around the country and create opportunities for thousands of business leaders to be part of a movement to mobilise citizens to reclaim responsibility for raising all our children.

Our education system is failing our children. We cannot sit back and wait for Superman to do something about it. The time has come for each and every one of us to lead SA and become actively involved in creating a country that works for all. Our taxes are not enough for the challenges we face. We need more commitment to positive change. This is all directly in line with the “Walk Together” scenario in the Dinokeng Scenarios.

The School at the Centre of Community ([email protected]) initiative is currently running in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, and scheduled for roll-out in Gauteng from September 2011. The challenge is out for all of us to get involved in this or other similar citizen-mobilisation initiatives, and not wait for Superman. He is not coming.

We are alone in this, every single one of us. And we have enough capacity collectively to transform our own circumstances, one school at a time.