Monday, 14 May 2012

How will you help educate our nation?

The Franschhoek Literary Festival is the best book fest by far, if you ask me. It's small and intimate; the participating authors and experts chat freely to passers-by; the trees and vineyards are fetching shades of red and gold; plus, you can always find something fabulous to eat between events, this being the gourmet capital of the Cape. What's not to love?

Yesterday I sat in the Franschhoek High School hall and listened to three wise men discuss the education crisis in SA: Prof Jonathan Jansen, vice chancellor of the University of the Free State, UCT economist Prof Francis Wilson, and CapeTalk's John Maytham. Make no mistake, Jansen warned, 'the situation is extremely bad.' Wilson was more upbeat, regarding the crisis as an opportunity for each of us to get involved in educating our coutry's youth. What they agreed on was the following:
1. We need to focus on quality. Passing kids at 30% or 40% is absurd. 50% should be the pass rate, finished and klaar. Once you set the bar higher, learners tend to rise to the challenge. Expect people to perform, and they will. Expect them to scrape by at 30% and they will... Currently, performance is sinking to such dismal levels because the bar has been set so shamefully low. We should start expecting - and pushing - students to aim for 70% and 80%.
2. We need to harness the energy of ordinary people to turn the education situation around, and not rely on government. What can you do to help stimulate reading, writing and learning among youth? If you're a chartered accountant, for instance, consider mentoring an accounting teacher at a local school for an hour a week. Or volunteer as a primary teacher's assistant. Or start a reading club, or help set up a library: only 8% of SA schools have libraries!
3. SA needs a value system overhaul. Our teachers and learners need to start showing up at school on time, doing their work, and being accountable and responsible. And parents need to show their commitment too. We've lost track of what's right and wrong.  
4. Cellphones are what young people are using to chat, connect and obtain information, and that's where we should be developing educational tools.

Re that last point: Open The Peacock Book Project on your cellphone, and let me know how far you get...  

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