Peo­ple must do it for them­selves

CityPress - - Business - Terry Bell busi­ness@city­press.co.za

Fuel prices rose again this month, ad­ding to the woes demon­strated by the re­cent un­em­ploy­ment sta­tis­tics that con­firmed what this col­umn has long fore­cast: the jobs mas­sacre will con­tinue.

Largely to blame for the job losses, of course, is the on­go­ing slump in com­mod­ity prices, but the steady march of mech­a­ni­sa­tion is also tak­ing its toll.

Then there are the lat­est, well-doc­u­mented fig­ures on food costs sup­plied by the Pi­eter­mar­itzburg-based so­cial ac­tion group Pacsa.

Th­ese re­veal that, at the time when the child sup­port grant in­creased by R20 a month, the min­i­mum cost of pro­vid­ing a young child with a nu­tri­tion­ally bal­anced diet rose by R75.75.

In­ad­e­quate in the first place at R350 a month – R572.80 a month is the cost of the es­ti­mated min­i­mum nu­tri­tional re­quire­ment for a young child – what this means is that chil­dren from poor back­grounds start life with mas­sive hand­i­caps.

Yet we are con­stantly be­ing told that ed­u­ca­tion is the an­swer to all of our prob­lems; that if we pro­duce a bet­ter-ed­u­cated work­force, pros­per­ity will be guar­an­teed and poverty van­quished.

This is another of those lu­di­crous myths ped­dled by the mak­ers of wish lists.

Yes, ed­u­ca­tion is one of the keys to a bet­ter, brighter fu­ture, but not in iso­la­tion.

A po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment is nec­es­sary for an ed­u­ca­tional en­vi­ron­ment that does not – as the cur­rent one does – waste the po­ten­tial of the ma­jor­ity our chil­dren.

This is a very de­press­ing out­look. How­ever, South Africa re­mains a wealthy county, listed as “mid­dle in­come” be­cause of the huge dis­par­ity be­tween rich and poor.

And there ex­ists a ban­ner of hope in our egal­i­tar­ian Bill of Rights, but the cur­rent eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem has clearly cre­ated con­di­tions at vari­ance with the pur­suit of th­ese rights.

There are grow­ing signs of re­bel­lion against the alien­ation of the ma­jor­ity from the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ma­chine.

Whether in ser­vice-de­liv­ery protests, com­mu­nity food gar­dens or ed­u­ca­tion, the dom­i­nant theme is demo­cratic: peo­ple are do­ing things, through unions or other groups, by them­selves and for them­selves.

What is needed is for the pos­i­tive el­e­ments, es­pe­cially in ed­u­ca­tion in its broad­est sense, to be en­cour­aged, ex­panded and co­or­di­nated. This can­not hap­pen by dik­tat.

As Michael Rice, di­rec­tor of the highly suc­cess­ful not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion Pro­gramme for Ed­u­ca­tional Tablets in Schools, notes: “There is no point in try­ing to up­grade any­one who is re­sis­tant to the process; so­lu­tions im­posed from the top down are doomed to fail.”

Teacher unions con­firm that, at great fi­nan­cial cost, var­i­ous gov­ern­ment pro­grammes to im­prove teacher and pupil per­for­mance have gen­er­ally failed to make much of an im­pres­sion.

The sub­jects of this largesse also com­plain that they are sel­dom con­sulted about their needs.

Yet there are schemes, in­clud­ing those run by unions, that seem to suc­ceed be­cause they have the “buy-in” of the users, which is not to say that any pro­vide an ul­ti­mate an­swer, but they do re­veal that a “bot­tom-up ap­proach” seems es­sen­tial.

Which brings to mind and old slo­gan: ed­u­cate, or­gan­ise, ag­i­tate (for true trans­for­ma­tion).

In other words, the an­swer may be for peo­ple to ac­tively and con­struc­tively in­volve them­selves in the man­age­ment of their own lives, to rally to the ban­ner of the Bill of Rights.

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