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Back to the future: Quality education through respect, commitment and accountability

Wednesday 27 June 2018
As the youth month draws to an end, what advice can we give our youth for them to thrive? On 16 June 1976, pupils faced-off with the brutal and oppressive Apartheid regime, in a fight for better education. In a democratic South Africa they are fondly remembered for their courage. Today’s youth can take a leaf from the class of 1976 and also become the agents of change.

The challenges confronting today’s youth range from socio-economic, to holding leaders accountable, and, above all, to forging a culture of mutual respect across race, class and gender lines.

Socially, family disorganisation, the scourge of drugs and violent behaviour in society and schools, spawned by poverty and persistent inequality, is wreaking havoc among our youth. Indeed, youth participating in various Save the Children South Africa (SCSA) projects, such as the Leadership Training for Representative Council of Learners at schools in KwaZulu-Natal, have identified the drugs problem as having a major adverse impact on education outcomes. Moreover, violence perpetrated by learners on learners and against teachers (and vice versa), has become a regular occurrence.  

Health challenges also have a direct impact on education performance and goals, hence many young stars are held back from succeeding in education by inequalities relating to accessing health services, such as sexual and reproductive health. This is despite the progress made by the Department of Health in the last few years, in the distribution of health resources and expansion of service delivery for the youth. Persistent high rates of HIV transmission (particularly among young, black women), unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and high mortality resulting from unsafe abortions remain major challenges for the youth.

Economically, the lack of job and career opportunities for today’s youth is a stark reminder of a poor quality learning experience in many parts of the system, from early childhood development (ECD) to basic and tertiary education. There are also limited platforms and opportunities for the youth to actively participate in governance and development activities in South Africa. Their voices, with the exception of youth at the tertiary level, have thus been largely marginalised.

So, where does one begin to address these challenges faced by the youth? One obvious pathway is addressing what stares us in the face every day: Ineffective, inefficient, corrupt leadership and the absence of moral authority. Starting with the leadership and management echelon within education institutions, learners must hold teachers and principals accountable for irresponsible behaviour, and demand that they practice what they preach by invoking their professional code of ethics.

Again, lack of responsible and committed learning is a challenge. Learners must also be ready to take full responsibility for their learning, including commitment to getting good quality results. They must also call each other to order if they witness boys abusing girls, girls abusing boys, and the various forms of bullying that is so commonplace today.

To improve health outcomes in youth, local government, communities and school systems must be accepting and supportive of adolescent sexual and reproductive health rights. Health services for youth must be youth friendly so that appropriate and non-judgemental counselling can be provided in all sexual and reproductive health scenarios. When it comes to violence and drug abuse, local police services and social workers must be immediately responsive and supportive but also join forces to raise awareness around prevention.
The youth must also play a central role in forging a culture of mutual respect across race, class and gender lines. And, for us at SCSA, we advocate starting early. Respect for the other must be infused into our curriculum statements beginning with ECD programmes. The integrated, holistic approach to learning encompassing elements of education, healthy living, child protection and child rights, has to be built into the way we teach and learn from the formative development stage.

Moreover, creating platforms for children’s voices to be heard at an early age will ultimately lay the foundation for the creation of a culture of mutual respect, as children grow into adulthood. This implies that rich children embrace poor children as social equals in the classroom and in the playground, boys treat girls and their mothers with respect from an early age and that fathers and male teachers lead by example. By helping to cultivate socially appropriate practices from an early age, we can help prepare the youth of today to rid society of negative and abusive behaviour patterns. So the rallying call to action for today’s youth should be: Quality education through respect, commitment and accountability!

By Logan Govender, Duduzile Skhosana, Sue Jones, Richard Montsho and Gugu Xaba, Save the Children South Africa
For more information or to set up an interview contact: Sibusiso Khasa on 073 449 6871 or [email protected]
About: Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. In South Africa and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share.
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