024-At age 60 music icon Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse decided to go back school and finish his matric, he plan to study anthropology next year. 02.02.11 Picture:Dumisani Dube

At a time that the importance of education has been devalued by detrimental reforms to teaching and learning in our schools, it has come as a wonderful surprise to see legendary singer Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse pass his matric – at 60!

The message is clear: it is never too late to pursue one’s dream, or to achieve it.

In my mother tongue, Tswana, we have a saying: “Even the last cow does get inside the kraal.”

It doesn’t matter how slow it might have been, how painfully it limped, how many setbacks it encountered along the way – once inside the kraal, it, like the rest, is counted as having made it!

Well done, Bra Sipho, may your story be a source of inspiration to all.

Seeing Mabuse congratulated by President Jacob Zuma, a man who was denied formal education by circumstances but overcame his upbringing and rose to become the head of state was marvellous.

When two important South Africans emerge in the public space of discourse to share such a rare moment of profound achievement as Mabuse’s, young and old alike need only pause, admire and be inspired.

Mabuse’s belated triumph amid the vicissitudes of life, which included navigating through apartheid, is stimulating in a country where similar news can be as rare as snow in Gauteng.

The sorry saga, nay, tragicomedy, of non-delivery of textbooks in Limpopo schools and other provinces has been a major blow to our morale as a nation.

The new SA, only in its 18th year of democracy, remain a country with multiple meanings.

What is mortifying, though, is the extent to which education, or its value, has been systematically removed from the zenith of our national priorities.

First, the late Kader Asmal, our former education minister, shut down the effective apartheid-era nursing and teacher training colleges.

The results have been catastrophic, and that’s putting it mildly.

No wonder talk in the corridors of power is that such institutions need to be reopened.

Following that was the petrifying power of the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), which has taken over the running of our school systems and deploys its members to positions of influence in the education departments.

Sadtu runs schools with the thunderous obstinacy of toyi-toying and unbelievable misdemeanours.

That Sadtu determines which comrade becomes headmaster or head of department in schools is an integral part of the disordered faults of our democratic progress.

I know of a principal perceived to be anti-Sadtu in Tembisa in Ekurhuleni.

His life has been turned into hell by Sadtu members who are intolerable of dissenting views.

Yet the final straw, which makes the adverse effects of the actions of Asmal and Sadtu look like an inconsequential walk in the park, has been the decision by the authorities to reduce the matric pass rate to 30 percent.

What the proponents of this philosophy won’t say is that, when these children (those lucky enough) get to university, the expected pass rate will be 50 percent.

This disjuncture is a tragedy waiting to befall children whose pass mark at matric has been a diabolical 30 percent.

As a matter of fact, such mediocre children become the laughing stock of other children from “normal” schooling backgrounds, trained to know that 50 percent is the benchmark for a pass.

Our education system is like an unconscious patient on a deathbed desperately requiring mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Granted, our educational problems are complex, but I believe that they begin with the poor quality of teachers that we produce.

Sadtu aside, there are just too many underqualified teachers who often cover their shortcomings with aggression and sometimes violence against pupils and members of the community.

Unlike the self-respecting traditional teachers of yesteryear, who regarded their profession as a calling, today’s teaching space is littered with misplaced jobseekers who are more interested in the politics of who will be the country’s next president than in the welfare of the children.

As a result, SA struggles to produce children who are ready to tackle the modern challenges of the 21st century’s digital revolution.

In this era of a globalised world, where there are winners and losers from technological development, our children’s Third World mindset leaves them ill-equipped to compete in the information and technology job market.

After industrial revolutions across the continents, our country is lagging behind in producing citizens with the competency to participate in the knowledge-based economies.

For, if our children are taught that 30 percent is all they need to declare themselves successful, so, too, will they live under the illusion that life requires that little to achieve any goal.

Imagine being told that it is good to run your life at 30 percent.

Imagine, too, paying 30 percent of your home loan, vehicle finance, 30 percent groceries, or 30 percent of everything one does.

All who run their life at 30 percent would be eternally in big financial debt and will go to their graves with 70 percent of their talents and potential untapped and unknown in a country such as ours that suffers from a massive skills deficit.

It is in this light that the story of Mabuse is truly uplifting.

He says his next step is to register at university and study anthropology.

Indeed, he qualifies to enrol for his chosen field of study.

After all, he passed his matric with distinction, not 30 percent.

The hunger for academic excellence has all but disappeared in the new SA.

Desire for education among our young people has been replaced by the desperation for tenders.

Our children enquire not about the various courses at tertiary institutions.

Instead, they talk about starting businesses. But they can’t even count.

Until we stop celebrating mediocrity, we shall continue breeding generations of self-delusional intellectual midgets fit to compete only among themselves, and never against international citizens from elsewhere in the global village.

The hardest-hit losers in this brewing fiasco are our children in the townships, rural areas and villages, the multitudes of historically disadvantaged masses who were supposed to benefit the most from the miracle of 1994 when Nelson Mandela became the first black president.

These will be children that Steve Biko might have had in mind when he observed in the famous phrase “hewers of wood and drawers of water”, the ready-made and perpetual subservient beings only good enough to clean after their peers.

Remember, children learn what they live, and live what they learn.

The authorities need not lower standards to increase numbers to fake success, as in the case of the end-of-year matric pass rate.

Throughout the history of humanity, quality has always proved to be of more value than quantity.

It is not too late to make amends. Let’s put them first, our beloved children, and build through them a better SA that will stand tall among the nations of the world.

l Makoe is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Royal News Services.