CAPE TOWN – I’ve always been passionate about education. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest it is the solution to South Africa's ills.
The day SA starts to take education seriously, and treats it as a priority rather than just a necessary chore, that is the day when we will start to see real progress.
I’ve always believed in the philosophy espoused by American writer Sydney J Harris that “the whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows”.
And, as such, it allows space for the individual to recognise the broader aspects of being human.
Instead of only parochial, selfish pursuits, you are able to open yourself up to viewing life through a different lens, and to able to be more receptive to see the world through the eyes of others.
It offers the appreciation of the value of ambition, but also the understanding that ambition demands sacrifice and hard work.
And, as you meander through the vicissitudes of life, to comprehend more, to appreciate the bigger picture, and to recognise the greater potential of what you see through your own unique window.
This is why I was so stoked by the latest youth development initiative of Ajax Cape Town when they launched their own soccer school last week, called the Ajax Lambda Institute (ALI).
It’s a programme that will house, feed, train and develop talented kids to be professional footballers.
But the important point is that the ALI focuses not just on football, but on developing and growing the player as a whole. Education is a priority.
There will be leadership programmes, life coaching, as well as a focus on emotional intelligence, self-control aspects, goal-setting, team work, self-motivation, attitude and coping with obstacles.
And that is what makes me so happy.
So often, and I’ve seen many, many over the years, highly-talented kids go missing because they are unable to cope with the emotional and intellectual challenges that go hand in hand with football at professional level - because they are under the false impression that talent is enough.
The ALI seeks to change such myopic thinking, in that it will focus as much on the basic education and psychological development of the player as it will on football.
The theme that ran like a steam train through the launch of the initiative last week was: Education comes first - becoming a professional player comes after that.
Ajax chief executive Ari Efstathiou also added to that by saying, while the club is determined that every single player who enters the ALI will become a professional - either in Europe or in the PSL - he vowed that if something should happen, injury or whatever other crisis to prevent the player from realising his dream, the club will find a solution for him outside of football.
The ALI will be headed up by Duncan Crowie, my former captain at Santos, and he certainly knows a thing or two about youth development and education.
As a former high school teacher, and a former professional footballer who has one appearance for Bafana Bafana, the kids are in the right hands with Crowie, an absolute legend in Cape football.
In fact, the Santos bunch we were part of in the late 1980s knew the importance of education. We were semi-professionals at the time; there was very little money in the game, so we worked during the day and trained at night.
We always knew that we would have to prepare ourselves for life after the game.
Crowie, his brother Desmond, Rodney Theys and I were teachers, there was Darryl Roelf the lawyer, Donnie Ronnie the home loan expert and Edries Burton the accounting professional.
Footballers, yes, but footballers with an awareness of life and a world beyond the four white lines.
A decade of teaching English at Elsies River High School attuned me to the significance of education, and how vital it is to building motivated, goal-orientated individuals.
My time there (during the turbulent late 1980s and early 1990s), at a school with many dedicated teachers who always placed the child first, still had its challenges.
But for every ne'er-do-well, for every scoundrel, we also churned out doctors, engineers, accountants, entrepreneurs, movers and shakers, and leaders of society, in an area wracked with the usual township social issues.
And the lesson I learnt from all of that was that every individual is responsible for his or her own journey.
You can make the most of your education, or not; it’s entirely up to you. You can rely on others, or you can accept the responsibility.
Ajax deserve much praise for their vision.
Because, in truth, they are short-circuiting the usual problems that bedevil the rise and maturity of football talent: when you grow the player holistically - not just in the feet, but in the head too - the journey to professional football is that much easier.