#FIRSTDAYATSCHOOL images of chil­dren ei­ther start­ing el­e­men­tary school or re­turn­ing to school for their next grade flooded so­cial me­dia on Wed­nes­day as par­ents were “sym­bol­i­cally” ex­press­ing their “in­ter­est” in their chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion.

It is an ex­cit­ing event, but it has its own prob­lem­atic fea­tures.

To some par­ents, it comes with a fan­tasy that this is the most im­por­tant day their child needs them as they me­an­der the long, chal­leng­ing, and tir­ing road of for­mal school­ing on #FirstDayAtSchool.

Af­ter the big day, chil­dren are left to lan­guish in limbo as par­ents fo­cus on hun­dreds of likes and re­ac­tions from Face­book and In­sta­gram. They con­tinue with their usual self-pam­per­ing on­line images while their chil­dren are left to their own de­vices as far as ed­u­ca­tion is con­cerned.

In all this rush on so­cial me­dia, let us pause to ask our­selves as par­ents: “Am I part of my child’s ed­u­ca­tion through­out the year or do I only par­tic­i­pate on the first day of school?”

My great­est fear is that with the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion and abun­dance of so­cial me­dia plat­forms, many of us have moved to realms of fan­tasy with­out re­al­is­ing that we are mov­ing away from re­al­ity.

It would be disin­gen­u­ous of us to think we can trust our schools, par­tic­u­larly pub­lic ones, with the ed­u­ca­tion of our chil­dren.

The coun­try is found want­ing in qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion.

If the ex­pres­sion of “in­ter­est” in our chil­dren’s school­ing is demon­strated only on the first day of school ev­ery year through cap­tur­ing and shar­ing of images on so­cial me­dia, then we are ac­tive mil­i­tants in the in­tel­lec­tual mas­sacre of our vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren.

We can­not keep shift­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity of par­ent­ing, which in­cludes school­ing, to teach­ers as they only get to be with the chil­dren for a lim­ited pe­riod. Our in­ter­est has to ex­tend be­yond “Kodak mo­ments”.

Some par­ents have been com­ing to the party, and that must be ap­plauded. How­ever, we can­not pre­tend all chil­dren re­ceive this much-needed sup­port from their par­ents. Pro­vid­ing chil­dren with school­ing needs ex­tends be­yond buy­ing school uni­form, pay­ing for trans­port, and pack­ing a lunch for them.

Par­ents are to en­cour­age chil­dren to read ev­ery day.

Chil­dren have to be ex­posed to ex­pe­ri­ences that will trig­ger their in­ter­est in ex­plor­ing the world.

They are to be given a voice at home and be al­lowed to ques­tion every­thing, so they be­come crit­i­cal thinkers. Par­ents are to go through their school notes with them and test them at home be­fore they go for an exam.

Reg­u­lar com­mu­ni­ca­tion with their teach­ers is im­por­tant.

It would be ar­ro­gant of me, though, not to ap­pre­ci­ate the struc­tural chal­lenges present-day par­ents face to get their chil­dren a de­cent ed­u­ca­tion. The dis­tance be­tween par­ents and their chil­dren mainly stems from the un­just and deep-rooted in­equal­ity in this pseudo-democ­racy. Some par­ents went through in­fe­rior ed­u­ca­tion and are of lit­tle help to their chil­dren’s school­ing. Oth­ers leave home at the crack of dawn and re­turn in the evening, just so their child gets to school well-fed and clothed.

Par­ents, we can­not trust our gov­ern­ment with our chil­dren, we have to get our hands dirty as far as the ed­u­ca­tion of our chil­dren is con­cerned.

The need to at­tend to our chil­dren’s school­ing is crit­i­cal. In the in­ter­est of our chil­dren’s suc­cess, we have to find a way to sup­port them from the first day of the aca­demic year right through to the end.

Let’s cap­ture those images to re­mind us ev­ery day dur­ing term that we have an obli­ga­tion to hold our chil­dren’s hands through their school­ing.

Sphelele Ngubane is a Chevening scholar. He teaches jour­nal­ism at Dur­ban Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy and writes in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

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