IN SOUTH Africa and the world over mainstream traditional education systems and paradigms are being challenged, laying bare questions that need urgent answers if we are to build a generation of productive and conscientious beings.

The youth are at the heart of this shift. In their daily lives they navigate a fast-paced and complex society in which they have to find the space where they feel comfortable and where they feel they belong.

The consequences of feeling displaced manifest themselves in frustration, anger, rage, sporadic violence and crime. In our homes, communities and institutions they need to feel a sense of power as they navigate their life’s journey.

Often with great enthusiasm and pain, we experience flashes of their hidden but explosive frustration and anger.

All stakeholders, youth, parents, communities, and public and private institutions need to step back and ask: where have we gone wrong? Within the formal education value chain, more often than not, we are reactive to the cyclical and recurring crises in education.

The South African context of education is framed by the politics and economics of education, school ethics, barriers to access, exclusionary practices and a lack of transformational leadership in education institutions.

School-level policy implementation and teaching solutions often address the symptoms and not the cause of socio-political, economic and psychological dimensions of the challenges that we all face.

As we attempt to traverse the muddy waters of educating our children, we must acknowledge that of great and equal importance is the reality that our children are also our greatest teachers.

And then the question we must ask ourselves becomes this: do we have the consciousness to see our children as a source of power to teach and learn?

As we rethink the contemporary society that we are creating through education, we have a responsibility to engage the required critical thinking processes to constructively challenge the status quo.

Education must be framed within the human rights and constitutional rights of the child. We must action our new journey of educational change by redefining justice, equality and access at all levels of education.

If our children are to benefit from the dramatic global shifts in all spheres of life on the planet today, we need to ask ourselves whether our schools have the basic environmental dexterity and resilience to enable our children to fully benefit from the value of the education experiences being provided to them.

As we individually and collectively craft solutions for holistic, multidisciplinary and integrated educational experiences, we have a responsibility to rethink how we are educating and what is it that we are producing as we educate our children and youth.

Across the globe and in South Africa, communities of all classes, ages, genders, cultures, races and religions are faced with issues of survival and safety.

As we battle the local and global complexities of change, relevant education that is aligned with raising the consciousness of a child holds the key to a good measure of life’s successes.

While education might not be a panacea to all the challenges that confront us, it certainly should hold a place in society that gives ethical direction to those who educate and those who are the recipients of the education process.

Education should be top of mind and a critical priority in the hearts and minds of all who hope to live in a society premised on human dignity, safety and prosperity for all.

The education process should enable the development of critical thinking and unlock personal consciousness with relevant skills and capabilities to critically engage life’s challenges.

In preserving the essence of being human and respecting the fragility of a child’s mind and life, our real challenge lies with being conscious of, and acting on, the severity of violating the right to be educated. This education process should be within a framework that protects and enables children and youth to live meaningful and productive lives.

In the education sphere of society, children and youth construct meaning about life and living, a process that must be underpinned by education in the home.

In constructing meaning of the world in which they live and learn, they begin to formulate how they see themselves and how they see others. They begin a journey where they plan their tomorrows, and which also determines whether they will live a conflicted or peaceful life.

Through the world of education, they navigate a world and a series of choices to survive, change the world and make their dreams come true, in a world of infinite possibilities.

Given the harsh realities of abject poverty in South Africa, perhaps the critical questions to ask those who hold the reins of power in education are:

n Does the current South African education system provide the environment that enables pupils to receive basic human rights as they go through their formal process of education?

n How relevant is the South African education experience for those faced with poverty and how will it shape their future?

n Are we a society living in a catatonic state as a result of not having personal and professional consciousness?

n Having lived through the legacy of an apartheid regime and given birth to a democracy, have we come to learn and implement the best educational practices in our learning and educational institutions?

n As we strive to bridge a racially polarised society, how do we plan to deal with complex manifestations of crimes against those who are expected to learn and grow? Is the silencing of these crimes in education the new de facto standard?

Crimes against children in the home, the community and the institutions of learning must be vigilantly investigated and punished to safeguard the basic human rights of every child.

What is evident throughout is that the silence over crimes confronting learners in our society is deafening. Why do we turn a blind eye to crimes in education against our most valuable asset, our children?

Increasingly, our children today feel that life is meaningless and hopeless, and tomorrow holds no hope. Why are we fostering conditions that cause them to lose the courage to see their own creativity, their brilliance and their capacity to live a productive life with dignity?

We violate their access to basic human rights; we stifle their need for constructive expression and responsible freedom. We diminish their right to learn and we crush their right to live and learn with a sense of dignity and equality.

We do not allow our children the right to dream of a world of possibilities nor do we create the environment for our children to realise their dreams.

Let us not live in a fool’s paradise. Let us allow our children to dream their dreams and live!

Johnathene Beyers is an educationist, community activist, mentor and teacher in Johannesburg.