ANOTHER VIEW: Back to school for a day makes all the difference
Ordinary citizens can become involved in education
ANATION'S history may be written in books, but a nation's future is written on the chalkboards of its schools. What happens in the classroom today determines what will happen in our country tomorrow. In recognition of this reality several hundred volunteers from a number of prominent South African companies went back to school last week as part of the ''Back to School for a Day'' initiative launched by the Adopt-a-School Foundation. These volunteers are at the forefront of an effort to involve South Africans in the education of our children.
They visited more than 50 schools around the country, reaching over 25000 pupils. They were involved in a variety of activities that ranged from career guidance, planting trees, cleaning, donating books, organising literacy programmes, and holding discussions on HIV/Aids. Some companies hosted community awards ceremonies, honouring those who have demonstrated a commitment to improving education in their communities. There were workshops on technology, and learners were introduced to careers in steel, logistics, food, banking, mining, law and other areas of business.
Through their efforts, these volunteers have made the important statement that education is a societal issue. The state of education affects everyone because it is so closely linked to the country's growth and development. Every citizen has a direct interest in seeing the quality and accessibility of education improved. As these volunteers have demonstrated, there is much that ordinary citizens can do to contribute towards realising such improvements.
It is envisaged that the ''Back to School for a Day'' initiative will be an annual event on the first Friday of May, with a call to South Africans to go back to school to enrich the lives of pupils by sharing their time, compassion, skills, knowledge and resources. Just one day of collective action can have a huge, life-changing impact on pupils. Not only do they benefit directly from the interaction with people with a variety of skills, backgrounds and insights, but the experience has a deeper significance. It affirms the value that society places on the success of each pupil. It offers them recognition, encouragement and inspiration. It also lifts the morale of teachers who recognise that society appreciates their work.
Yet the true potential of this initiative extends far beyond an annual day of action. There is a compelling argument for all citizens to become more involved in education on a sustained basis. As Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education, observes: "Research has shown that learner achievement is dependent also on the level of support and active involvement of parents and members of the community."
It is critical that parents take greater responsibility for the education of their children. Where there are challenges, parents should be leading efforts to address them. But they should not be alone. Even people who do not have children in schools should be engaged. There is a wealth of skills, resources and ideas within the broader community that can be harnessed to improve education.
The ''Back to School for a Day" initiative provides just one example of how these capabilities can be mobilised.
Another is the Adopt-a-School Foundation itself. Established in 2001, the foundation has worked with business and educational institutions to direct more than R65-million to schools. More than 130 schools have been adopted by companies and individuals benefiting more than 400000 pupils.
The organisation of ordinary citizens to support the education of our children is limited only by the boundaries of our collective imagination. We have the means; all we need is the motivation. It does not need a directive from government. It is something that a group of parents, professionals, a sports club, a stokvel, or the local branch of a trade union can do. Former pupils could organise themselves to return to their old schools to help improve conditions there.
These initiatives do not only benefit pupils. They also benefit those who return to schools to make a contribution. Such interactions enable them to get a clearer sense of the challenges in education and to take a more informed approach to seeking solutions. As this year's volunteers will attest, such interactions are also extremely rewarding and fulfilling at a personal level. They help to instil a sense of community and an appreciation of the value of solidarity and service.
Those who volunteered to return to school did not have to sacrifice much beyond a few hours of their time.
But the investment they made in the future of our youth was substantial. Next year, we are hoping to have at least 5000 volunteers and more than 50 companies visiting at least 200 schools.