ADDRESS BY THE DEPUTY MINISTER OF EDUCATION, FATHER SMANGALISO MKHATSHWA, AT THE GRADE 12 FAREWELL PARTY AND AWARDS CEREMONY AT CEFUPS ACADEMY - NELSPRUIT, 3 OCTOBER 1998
Director of Ceremonies, learners, educators, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen.
It was with great joy that I received and accepted your invitation to be part of this celebration of learning. I wish to commend and congratulate the initiators and organisers of this ceremony for their contribution to the Culture of Learning and Teaching campaign by honouring and acknowledging the high achievers in this school and by motivating the rest of the learners to follow their example.
Our national system of education and training enables all South Africans to take full advantage of their right to education. This competency-based, skills-oriented, integrated education and training system will ensure that education becomes a continuous process of acquiring knowledge; something of value beyond its capacity to enable people to pass examinations and accumulate certificates.
This important paradigm shift will do away with limited and limiting perceptions of education as something abstract, which takes place through textbooks, in schools and in other formal settings. In addition to all this, we aim to ensure that education and training opportunities are available to learners under conditions they can meet throughout their entire lives. This will be achieved through overcoming barriers that result from geographical isolation, work commitments, or conventional course structures. We want to enable people to move across, as well as up, qualification ladders.
Since 1994 we have steadily moved our education from a patchwork of systems, riven by divisions, inequality, segmentation, centralisation and poor articulation; to a coherent and integrated national system characterised by openness, articulation, devolution, high participation, creativity and built-in quality assurance.
This is the only way in which we will manage to develop the vast potential of our country's human resources and make our country a winning nation that can compete in the international economic arena.
Allow me to now address the achievers whose success we are celebrating today and the grade 12 learners who will be proceeding to institutions of higher learning or joining the work force in 1999.
Some of you will receive awards today. Awards are granted to countries, organisations and individuals to acknowledge commitment, achievement and excellence. But awards also place the recipient under pressure as more will expected from that organisation or person.
I was informed that this school has produced excellent matric results for the past five years. I thank you for that and trust that you will repeat or even improve on that feat. However, this recognition places a heavy burden on you to plough back to your schools, peers, and communities the wealth of knowledge that you have acquired. We expect you to become a reservoir of knowledge, passionate advocates for learning, motivators and sources of inspiration for other young people.
It is sad to discover that many young people have no ambition or goals, and show very little interest in education. Allow me to illustrate this through a few examples:
This funny but disturbing conversation took place between a student and a teacher: The teacher had given the student a zero for a test.
Student: "Sir, I honestly don't think I deserve an absolute zero for my work."
Teacher: "Neither do I, but it is the lowest mark I am allowed to give."
A similar conversation between a parent and a young son also reveals the problems we are faced with:
Parent: "Aren't you ashamed to be at the bottom of a class of twenty eight boys."
Son: "No, that's not bad, suppose it was a class of fifty boys."
You must use the knowledge you have acquired about responsibility and study skills to assist in guiding other young people, who are unlike these two young men, to change their approach and attitude to learning in order that they, too, may become better citizens.
I will be failing in my duty if I do not say a word to one of the most important - if not the most crucial component - of our quest to achieve high quality education, the educators.
Henry Brooks Adams, a great educationist, once said, "A teacher affects eternity, he/she can never tell where his/her influence stops". The importance of educators can never be fully emphasised. The nation will be forever grateful to the noble work our educators do, often under difficult circumstances. Teachers produce experts needed in any country's development. But even more importantly, they help to cultivate and transmit moral and social values that are central to the development of any society. Teachers can either make or break the future of this country.
I appeal to them to assist many of our young people to decide on a suitable career. Students are usually influenced by the following factors when they have to make a choice about their future careers; lack of information, misconceptions, peer pressure and parental influence and sometimes lack of interest or initiative on their part. Allow me again to demonstrate the role of these factors by way of a few light-hearted examples:
A student was asked about his unusual choice of subjects;
"Why do you study a dead language like Latin?" After scratching his head he replied, "Well, seeing that I plan to be an Undertaker, I have to understand the language of the dead."
This problem is further illustrated by a young man who when asked why he was at school, had this to say:
"Well, I don't exactly know why I was sent here. My mother says to prepare me to be President, Uncle Bill says to sow my wild oats, my sister say I was sent to find her a man, while my father feels that I am at school to bankrupt the family.
I also appeal to you to lead by example by exercising patience and understanding in leading our young people through the difficult path of self-discovery. It always pays to be sensitive to the mental and spiritual needs of your learners.
You will also be expected to use your conflict-resolution, violence prevention and personal relationship skills to educate both learners and each other about the new responsibilities and challenges of a new democratic education dispensation.
The following example illustrates the mammoth task ahead:
One brave teacher once announced to his classroom:
"If there are any fools in this class, please stand up and remain standing until I say so: I want the whole world to see the fools in this classroom."
After a long pause a young boy hesitantly stood up.
"Do you consider yourself a fool?" "Well, not exactly sir, but I do hate to see you standing by yourself."
As you can well imagine it is this type of exchanges in the classroom context that has contributed to the souring of relations between students and teachers. You will agree with me that sound relations in the schools will go a long way in restoring the culture of learning and teaching in our schools.
You should continuously strive for excellence and improve yourselves, as mediocrity is not our quest. On your shoulders rests a heavy responsibility to assist our youth to become deserving beneficiaries of the prosperous future South Africa has to offer. With your help we can save so many young lives that are now regarded as the "Lost Generation or Marginalised Youth." It is you, not the gangsters and drug lords, that must be the source of envy and role-models among the youth. If that happens we would have positively contributed to the crime prevention strategy in a meaningful way.
The nation's dreams and Africa's dreams for the future are in our hands. We have in our grasp an opportunity that this country has not really had before. It is the opportunity to become a developed world. It is the opportunity to become the source of technological solutions for the problems that continually challenge our continent. It is the opportunity to create a wealthy society, where every young South African's dream can be realised. These are the opportunities that are now within our grasp.
No opportunity however, comes without a price. And if we want to take hold of these opportunities, we have to be prepared to pay the price. This is a price that must be paid by the nation as a whole. It is a price that must be paid by the Government departments. It is a price that must be paid by business and industry. It is a price that must be paid by parents, teachers and communities and lastly, it is a price that must be paid by the learners themselves. The price I am referring to is hard work and a spirit of discipline and dedication. To the best of my knowledge hard work does not kill whereas laziness does.
Our country needs women and men who are prepared to work hard. It needs women and men who are always ready to walk the extra mile, people who are efficient, organised and can use their time profitably. The spin-offs from such self-disciplined citizens are personal success, progress and development for our country and continent. It is through such total commitment and dedication in whatever we do that the African Renaissance will be realised.
A week ago, President Mandela condemned the culture of entitlement and patronage that prevails among many black students in our tertiary institutions. He made it clear that this government will no longer tolerate non-performing students who are wasting taxpayers money. The Ministry of Education remains committed to supporting students who work hard, succeed in their studies and are truly deserving.
I have suggested that creating a culture of learning and teaching is not an option. It is a moral and political imperative central to our national survival. Quality education is the cornerstone of our democratic process. It is a pillar of our growth and development strategy. Quality education is central to our country's objective in improving our Science and Technology capacity. Quality education is non-negotiable. If we renounce our right to quality education, then we have abdicated our role as co-architects of a democratic society. If we cannot face this challenge and provide a solution to the many challenges facing our education, we shall be flushing our country's future down the drain.
In the past, schools were sites of confrontation between the apartheid state and the communities struggling for their liberation. Today, schools should become sites of confrontation between those who want to become creative architects of the next century, and those who want to undermine our democratic state.
Allow me, director of ceremonies, to leave today's achievers and the matriculants who in a few days will be sitting for their final examinations with this message: In the new South Africa we shall compete with people of all races and other nationalities. Therefore we cannot aim to be second best. We must set out to do a good job, irrespective of race, and to do it so well that nobody could do it better. Whatever your life's work is, do it well.
When I was a student at the University of Louvain in Belgium, my professor liked a quote, which I am going to share with you now. It was taken from Douglas Mallock:
If you cannot be a pine on the top of the hill
Be a scrub in the valley - but be
The best little scrub by the side of the hill,
Be a bush if you can't be a tree
If you cannot be a highway just be a trail
If you cannot be the sun be a star;
It is not by size that you win or fail -
Be the best of whatever you are.
I thank you.