Save our Education

Monday 26 July 2021
We have failed to protect the right of every child to an education. We are in an education emergency. 
Save the Children calls on all parties to immediately focus on Saving our Education.
 
There has been a lot of media attention on the destruction of schools during the recent public violence. And rightly so - this is an absolute tragedy. 
 
But what is the damage exactly?
 
When you enter one of these schools your first impression is that it looks like it’s been hit by a tornado. Literally, like a violently rotating column of air has torn through the rooms blasting paper and cardboard and glass all over the place. There are gaping holes in the ceiling with wire and metal hanging down.
 
You move to the kitchen and realise that the stove and fridge are gone, leaving empty discoloured squares of paint against the wall. In fact, every piece of crockery and cutlery has been taken and the drawers smashed on the floor. More colourful cardboard, paper and glass strewn about. You move on and there’s a gap where the washing machine used to be, and all the cleaning equipment is gone – brooms, mops, buckets. You name it. 
 
A similar situation in the storeroom. The shelves are mangled, like a giant has been thundering around in that small space. The stationary is gone but the books are all over the floor. 
 
Outside, the school bus looks as if it’s been in an accident. Dings, scrapes, tears with the engine completely stripped. It’s at about this point that you feel an overwhelming need to sit down, cover your mouth, and contemplate. You should be angry, but instead you’re empty and confused.
 
What a situation. Even prior to this violence there were over 1,700 schools nationwide in need of major repairs due to theft and vandalism. Children had already lost significant learning time due to Covid-19 restrictions, and ill-conceived remote learning programmes. And now this?
 
So what do we do? Our immediate priority is getting children safely back to school this Monday. Schools are so much more than just a place to learn, providing children with nutritious meals, a source of protection and a space to socialize. All of this critical for their mental health and wellbeing, and to our collective future. 
 
So let’s channel our resources to repairing the infrastructure, providing access to water and hygiene (including PPE) as well as basic psychological first aid. Let’s protect our children today. Save the Children calls on every individual, every corporate as well as government to commit resources to saving our education and getting children safely back to school.
 
However, while this emergency response is necessary, the critical work takes place over the long-term. The public violence was just a symptom of a broken system that is failing our children. We have a progressive Constitution and strong laws and regulations supporting children and their development. We also have a framework of strategies to advance children’s rights and numerous examples of successful programs that could be scaled. We know what to do, but we lack high level political commitment to child rights, appropriate coordination and a lack of investment in the right places. 
 
Our schools and education system may be in tatters, but South Africa is an amazing country with great potential, we know what works and we certainly have the ability to rebuild a better system that serves our children and our vision for the future. But we will fail unless we respect and promote the rights of child

Steve Miller – CEO Save the Children; 23 July 2021