“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela once said.

This year’s Youth Month was ushered in by shocking challenges that continue to face our children, youth and country in general.

The nation was exposed to some of the challenges that face our education system, including pupils studying under trees and textbooks still not delivered halfway through the year.

Experts agree that education plays an important role in the creation of strong and sustainable developmental states.

The recent labour force survey revealed that young adults make up over 70 percent of the unemployed and that over 60 percent of the unemployed do not have matric.

Statics also show us that only 40 percent of the youth get a matric certificate, of which only 10 percent get into higher education institutions.

Only 40 percent of those who get into higher education institutions graduate. SA’s education is ranked number 131 out of 139 countries. We are ranked number 137 out of 139 countries in maths and science.

I am convinced that our discourse on youth and broader development needs to change to be less focused on bling and the creation of tenderpreneurs.

We need to turn our energies towards educating our youth. The culture of learning has to be made fashionable for us to prosper as a nation.

My father has always told me that “the most dangerous weapon is an idle mind”. I do not doubt that the many violent service delivery and other protests we are experiencing may be as a result of idle minds.

In my view, our education has degenerated to the worst it has ever been and the following need to be done:

l Roping in the defence force and young people through the National Youth Service to build schools so that no child studies under a tree or in a mud structure by 2015.

l Provision of nutrition to all schools.

l All government schools and higher education institutes need to be declared no-fee schools.

l Parents whose children are of school-going age but do not send them to school must be criminally charged.

l Provision of uniforms for pupils at all government schools.

l Reopening and building of teacher colleges.

l Reskilling teachers and using retired teachers.

l Sharpening our textbook delivery machinery so that all schools have their books delivered in December in preparation for the start of the school year in January.

l Reconsidering the discipline enforcing mechanisms at our schools.

l Linking teacher performance bonuses to pass rates.

Higher education must be free at all levels.

Mobilise communities to play an active role in our education system.

Olwethu Sipuka, Centurion