The English language was failing me. It was very hard to hold a conversation in the Queen’s language. My poor English vocabulary ripped my confidence apart. I knew I had to do something about it. I always say it is imperative to have a good understanding of the English language – reading, writing and speaking it. After all, it runs the world. This is a language that was fought for to be the medium of instruction in 1976.
Fast forward to 2017: black children from the rural areas still struggle with it terribly. That is heartbreaking, because just like I struggled during my first year at varsity to interact and pose questions to my lecturers, villagers like me will continue to suffer if the school curriculum continues to fail pupils as it did my generation.
As I was preparing to put together this special edition for Youth Day, I asked some boys of the Young Men Movement to contribute articles to make this edition extra special. After breaking the news to the lads, the atmosphere was boisterous. The thought of seeing their names or byline pictures got them all excited.
Within hours, their families and friends knew they would be featured in the Pretoria News.
So, I asked them to write at least 600 words each to give their thoughts and reflections on what this historic day means to them. That was the brief I gave them two months ago. In the past two weeks, I was reading and editing their work. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. Sadly, more than 90% of their articles did not meet the standards. I was not really surprised by the bad English. After all, they are taught English as an additional language.
The standard of our education has dropped. Badly. I blame the education system. It has normalised mediocre. It has made pupils to believe in the 30% pass mark.
Furthermore, as their mentor, I was mad at them but more at myself for doing so little to make sure they realise the importance of reading, writing and listening.
Then I realised that the school curriculum is to blame that most, if not all, pupils from the rural areas continue to suffer. It is 41 years since the Soweto uprising, and we still have not found a winning formula for our education system. Then there is pop culture, technology and many other social activities that easily distract these youngsters.
But the education system has to change.
Let us reintroduce orals at school. Pupils should do more creative writing, essays and letters. It is entirely for their benefit. If there is one thing we should do as South Africans, it is to fight for an education system that champions the basics of survival for black pupils. We have to demand that the poorest of the poor are afforded an opportunity to better their lives.
South African pupils need a curriculum that champions excellence, because if we do not do that, we will be continuing to spit on the graves of the heroes and heroines who fought for a better education system for blacks. If English is not going to fall, then we have to empower pupils with a system that is going to advocate for good English at schools.
I applied basics, I read more, wrote more and then I was back to my chatterbox eloquently, more confident and with my self-esteem restored. I do not want them to suffer the way I did.
Let us do right by the black pupils of this generation. Their challenges are far more complex than those of the past. Until then, we are not yet at uhuru.
* Kabelo Chabalala is founder of the Young Men Movement and guest editor of the Youth Day special edition of the Pretoria News