Ed­u­ca­tion is a poverty-re­duc­ing equaliser

Young peo­ple should stop viewi ng edu cation as a waste of time, writes Mike Teke

CityPress - - Voices -

Ire­cently vis­ited my home town­ship of KwaThema in Springs, and I came across a group of teenagers at a lo­cal su­per­mar­ket en­gaged in a heated de­bate. Phrases such as ten­der­preneur, white monopoly cap­i­tal, white priv­i­lege and broad-based black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment were be­ing thrown around ran­domly. So rau­cous was the de­bate that it at­tracted a siz­able crowd of cu­ri­ous spec­ta­tors.

On the one side was a group that be­lieved that it was fu­tile to pur­sue ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tions all the way up to univer­sity level. To jus­tify their stance, they cited less ed­u­cated but “street smart” in­di­vid­u­als who they said amassed wealth by scor­ing ten­ders. Names such as Bill Gates, Richard Bran­son and Steve Jobs were thrown into the mix of those who made it big with­out univer­sity qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

“Come on guys, none of these guys have ma­tric, so what’s the point of wast­ing time on de­grees?” rang a voice from one of the teenagers.

The op­po­site group put up a brave and im­pres­sive fight in de­fend­ing their view that ed­u­ca­tion was an in­dis­pens­able tool to turn around peo­ple’s for­tunes, but they were drowned out. Not even Nel­son Man­dela’s famous quote: “Ed­u­ca­tion is the most pow­er­ful weapon which you can use to change the world,” was enough to sway opin­ion in their favour.

Amid all this, I was re­minded of what a spe­cial friend, who is now de­ceased, used to tell me. He liked to re­mind me that when a man vis­its his girl­friend and meets her par­ents for the first time, he must ex­pect to re­spond to sev­eral ques­tions from the fam­ily. The most com­mon ques­tion usu­ally re­lates to the prospec­tive groom’s level of ed­u­ca­tion, and whether he can read and write with­out stut­ter­ing and stum­bling over his words.

I know that be­ing less ed­u­cated can be such a lim­it­ing or even un­par­don­able re­al­ity. I doubt if this pos­tur­ing would have swayed the teenagers I en­coun­tered at KwaThema, but given the per­va­sive dan­ger of their view and that of many young peo­ple to­day, it is worth sound­ing the warn­ing bell.

Be­fore I am branded as be­ing in­dif­fer­ent to in­her­ent prob­lems af­flict­ing some of our less ed­u­cated peo­ple, it’s not my in­ten­tion here to open a de­bate about the af­ford­abil­ity of ed­u­ca­tion.

I sub­scribe to the view that the state has a duty to fi­nance ed­u­ca­tion, at least up to a par­tic­u­lar level, be­cause it col­lects taxes from its cit­i­zens.

There is a pop­u­lar phrase that says “uganga ngami ngoba angi­fun­danga”, which loosely trans­lates to “you ridicule me be­cause I am un­e­d­u­cated”.

Gen­er­ally, an ed­u­cated per­son ac­quires a mea­sure of in­tel­lec­tual prow­ess which makes them not be sus­cep­ti­ble to ma­nip­u­la­tion or ex­ploita­tion. An ed­u­cated or learned per­son largely has the men­tal for­ti­tude to enquire, scru­ti­nise and in­ter­ro­gate al­most any in­for­ma­tion they en­counter. They re­sist the temp­ta­tion to be in­volved in lynch mob men­tal­ity be­cause their men­tal fac­ulty is de­vel­oped enough to make in­formed and ra­tio­nal de­ci­sions.

In a coun­try like South Africa, which is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a crit­i­cal skills short­age, it is a no-brainer that ed­u­ca­tion is an im­por­tant tool of em­pow­er­ment we should all em­brace. A skilled cit­i­zenry and work­force bodes well for any coun­try; it means a greater chance for greater eco­nomic devel­op­ment. A coun­try that in­vests more in qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion is more likely to have a civil cit­i­zenry, which will help to­wards cre­at­ing a har­mo­nious so­ci­ety. All of these point to one is­sue: that ed­u­ca­tion has the power to give and/or re­store dig­nity and pride to hu­man­ity, es­pe­cially in the face of grind­ing poverty, stigma, marginal­i­sa­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion.

I have been ex­posed to some of the finest, highly ed­u­cated cit­i­zens, in­clud­ing doc­toral schol­ars, who are not only qual­i­fied in dif­fer­ent fields, but are also en­light­ened in­di­vid­u­als who demon­strate the abil­ity to per­ceive the plain facts of life and ex­plain com­plex is­sues af­fect­ing hu­man­ity, in­clud­ing those around the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion and its im­pact on hu­man­ity, with a no­bil­ity not ap­par­ent to ev­ery­one.

The pal­pa­ble feel­ing of be­long­ing to the “en­light­ened com­mu­nity” was over­whelm­ing dur­ing a re­cent grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony at the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg (UJ), where I no­ticed there were among the au­di­ence par­ents and rel­a­tives of grad­u­ates. It was an emo­tional and proud mo­ment for fam­i­lies, con­sid­er­ing that some of them, if not many, had to make sac­ri­fices to help their loved ones secure a fu­ture. In most cases, the grad­u­ate hap­pens to be the first in line in his/her fam­ily to have ac­quired an ed­u­ca­tional qual­i­fi­ca­tion at a univer­sity level.

As I sat in my seat wit­ness­ing the cel­e­bra­tions, flashes of that scene in KwaThema, where the teenagers were en­gaged in the fierce ar­gu­ment about the rel­e­vance of ed­u­ca­tion, played out in my mind. I couldn’t help won­der­ing what dif­fer­ence it would make if uni­ver­si­ties started invit­ing school­child­ren, even from pri­mary level, to at­tend grad­u­a­tion cer­e­monies for them to ex­pe­ri­ence such spe­cial mo­ments. I am cer­tain that this can be a good ges­ture that will not only in­spire these young cit­i­zens, but also go a long way in re­claim­ing the cul­ture of read­ing among our youth and em­brac­ing ed­u­ca­tion as a spe­cial tool.

A schol­arly cul­ture can help de­bunk the mis­con­cep­tion that peo­ple like Gates and Bran­son are less ed­u­cated. Be­sides, their home coun­tries are de­vel­oped and have more op­por­tu­ni­ties. In our case, as a de­vel­op­ing econ­omy, we lag be­hind in many in­stances. I re­mind those who think at­tain­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion is a waste of time, of the pow­er­ful message of English poet Alexan­der Pope: “A lit­tle learn­ing is a dan­ger­ous thing. Drink deep or taste not the Pierian spring; there shal­low draughts in­tox­i­cate the brain and drink­ing largely sobers us again.”

Teke is UJ coun­cil chair­per­son and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Ser­iti Re­sources, a broad-based

black-owned min­ing com­pany

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