Fix historical deficit to raise leaders
TEXTBOOKS are all well and good, but for today’s youth – for whom realtime, social media-inspired, digital communication is the norm – the lessons of history are best imparted in a deeply personal and compelling way.
Recently, the Gordon Institute of Business Science conducted a poll of Grade 11 and 12 youngsters attending the GIBS CareerExpo, which is hosted annually in association with MTN.
The results open up a window into the world of these young adults and allow us to gauge things like their optimism for the future (just 53% intend building a future in South Africa, down from 80% in 2016) and their belief in political engagement to effect change in our nation (53%, down from 75% in 2015).
The latest survey also tells us that South African youth don’t know their history.
We asked three history-focused questions this year, all of which highlighted a lack of detailed historical understanding by 16 to 17-year-olds. We asked which of the following heads of state – Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma – were not imprisoned on Robben Island, and 70% thought Zuma wasn’t imprisoned there.
We asked when the constitution was adopted and 67% thought in 1994, not 1996.
We asked when South Africa was in a state of emergency. Only 15% said 1985, most said 1976 or 1991.
The pupils came from various racial groups – 76% black; 5% Indian; 5% coloured, 4% white – and private and public schools from across Gauteng.
It appears that this historical deficit is evident in both privileged and underprivileged youth.
This tells us that the problem is endemic and the solution may be found by tackling the way we engage with today’s hyper-connected youth about our complex past.
We have so many resources at our fingerstips to achieve this: books, articles, film, television, music, theatre. It’s time to use them all.
Next month, for example, a new South African film, Krotoa, hits the local movie circuit after claiming a wealth of global accolades.
The production, from filmmaker Roberta Durrant, tells the tragic story of a Khoi woman, Krotoa, who is caught between two worlds: the Dutch colonisers and her Khoi heritage.
History tells us that Krotoa was Jan van Riebeek’s chief interpreter, but until this film, her story was seemingly lost to South African history.
This film captures a moment in South Africa’s complex history. It doesn’t sugar-coat events, but creates a window of understanding. It humanises the struggle for equality back in 1652. We need more of this sort of storytelling.
As South Africans, we should know these nuances of our history in the same way that proud nations like the US, Australia or Russia do.
In the past, we shied away from issues of race and difficult discussions, but as a nation we can no longer afford to do so.
GIBS is a firm believer in the power of experiential learning to make these sorts of impactful breakthroughs.
We could start by interrogating, for example, how the constitution influences the lives of young people under 25, who make up 51.5% of our population.
The constitution applies to us all, but how much do young people understand about the years of real conversation and compromise that went into creating it?
I hear lots of perspectives but I yearn for some real dialogue around the “so what”.
I long for the ability to engage deeply on some of the most vexing issues and the ability to bring together the beautiful tapestry of incredible minds that make up South Africa to find unique ways in which to address this.
We live in a period in which technology allows us to connect quicker and faster than ever before. This excites me. Now is the chance for us to positively impact the future leaders; youngsters who, according to our survey, are becoming increasingly disillusioned about their ability to improve this country. Director for Centre of Leadership and Dialogue at the GIBS
WRITE TO US
MOULDING LEADERS: Teacher Nokuthula Zulu giving a revision class for the exam on 40 Years Later, After June 16 1976. The writer is appalled by youths’ ignorance of history.