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The ideals of the 1976 youth uprising have been systematically betrayed. The root of the betrayal is in the failure of vision, leadership, management and governance. All citizens are implicated in this betrayal because – unlike the youths of 1976 – we have failed to act and raise our voices against the theft of hope from future generations.
The facts are no longer in dispute. Ours is an education system that is marked by failure to provide facilities adequate to the definition of school.
We have a “one-size-fits-all” teaching and learning approach that is stranding more than 500 000 children a year and leaving most Grade 6 pupils illiterate and innumerate.
We have inadequate teaching and learning support despite sophisticated ICT networks that could provide e-learning across the length and breadth of our country and close the digital divide. We have a significant number of teachers and principals who are ill-suited to teach and lead. We have performance standards that reflect shockingly low expectations of teachers and pupils. We have a failed public school system.
What is needed now is leadership committed to the ideals of the 1976 generation – to social justice, that pillar of our constitution. The depths to which education has sunk and the devastating impact it is having is illustrated in the four million young people not in school, not in training and not in jobs.
But our president seems to be otherwise occupied. The crisis of schools without teachers in the Eastern Cape and without textbooks in Limpopo tells of an education minister who is unable to lead and manage.
The unemployment of more than 600 000 tertiary education graduates tells of a higher education system that is not equipping young people for careers.
Our private sector is also failing to lead and continues to insist graduates boast experience when they have few opportunities to garner such experience.
SA needs to radically transform its education system. We have the financial resources – R236 billion in the 2012/13 budget, at least R5bn in private sector annual funding to the sector, plus the 1 percent of payroll taxes that go to the Sector Education and Training Authorities (Setas), amounting to no less than R5bn annually.
We have the intellectual resources to imagine, plan and execute a complete overhaul of this destructive system and restore hope to young people.
We have enough models via 600 successful public sector schools, many private sector/civil society initiatives such as the Extraordinary Schools’ Coalition supported by Bridge, as well as a growing number of affordable private schools.
What is needed is leadership to coalesce and galvanise these efforts into a nationwide movement that brings the government, the private sector, civil society, parents, teachers and students together for a better tomorrow.
There is a growing movement of young people who are taking ownership of their country and their future. SA has one of the youngest demographic profiles in the world – the average age of our population is 24.6 years, with 41 percent of the population below 20.
Turning this demographic profile into a competitive advantage requires a change in mindset. Excellent and equitable education is the best investment we can make as a nation to position ourselves in a competitive, knowledge-driven, global economy.
Adults need to change their attitudes to leadership to enable young people to realise their full potential. A starting point is changing the language we use.
As long as we refer to young people as “a lost generation”, we will extinguish their dreams. When we regard young people as “ticking time bombs”, we rob them of their self-confidence.
Young people are the leaders of tomorrow. The 1976 generation has shown us the way.
The radical change in mindset must start with acknowledgement of our complicity as citizens over the last 18 years.
The legacy of racism and the superiority and inferiority complexes it has left us with has silenced many voices.
White people do not want to be labelled racists, so they withhold comment on obvious failures of leadership and management. Black people do not want to be heard criticising a majority black government because that is labelled counter-revolutionary.
Many young people are following populist leaders’ example of tenderpreneurship because political connections rather than hard work seem to lead to phenomenal wealth.
Parents have kept their distance because they believe they have neither the voice nor the energy to challenge the system that is destroying their children’s future. All these are signs of a wounded society in need of healing.
We committed ourselves in the preamble of our constitution to heal the wounds of the past, but we did not create the mechanisms to do so.
We now urgently need to link hands in circles of healing in the age-old African conversational style to reconnect, eyeball to eyeball.
We need honest conversations on how we take the experiments in radical transformation around us and galvanise them into generating momentum for a great success story.
We need to commit to work of healing between and among citizens at the personal, professional and political levels so that we no longer excuse or tolerate the mediocrity, incompetence and corruption around us.
We have the capacity for greatness. We owe it to the generation of 1976. Let us rise up as responsible citizens.
l Mamphela Ramphele is the founder of Citizen Movement.