Lest we fail the African child now ! (Keynote Address)

It is the 3rd year that I stand before you, still not sure, if someone else could not have done a better job, yet I was summoned back this year again. Humbled to be present and equally accepts the official Patron designation me bestowed.

May I therefore also extend apologies on behalf of my wife Valencia, who cannot share with us this moment only because she is a student steeped in final exams preparation, embedded in psychology and criminology subjects?

Distinguished guests present, Graduates, Educators, Family of the Honouree Mrs Foster, Edubuild Board and Staff Members and friends allow me for a moment to deliver this address with three- fold intent. In such I hope to address our parents of school going children, our graduates and ultimately to pay homage to a veteran in education embrace, Mrs. Elizabeth Foster to whom this Graduation and ceremony is dedicated.

“Suffer little Children, and forbid them not come unto me: for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven ‘Matthew 19: 13

These words  recorded in the account of Matthew’s Gospel  of Jesus Christ captured in Chapter 19 verse 13 to be precise constitutes the theme for our address this day.

2012, for all of us  in the arena of education was an extremely challenging year. We saw in this year the issue of textbooks delivery brought to court  in which the Limpopo Government and the National Government  Department of Basic Education  were embarrassed for failing the  African child  in not delivering textbooks on time at the beginning of the year. The Textbook saga had many jolts and twists and finally we can accept that the fiasco of textbook non-delivery was laid to rest since we now hear from the DBED that textbooks for the 2013 Academic year will be delivered at the respective schools by mid-December 2012. I shall give it my personal thumbs up, as valuable lessons learnt.

As if that was not enough, we heard of schools in the Northern Cape in particular Joe Morolong  (Kuruman) and  John Taole Gaetsewe  (Olifantshoek ) Districts completely in shambles with children absent from schooling recorded for at least 19 schools for over  four months.

This issue as we speak is still not resolved and the academic year is over.  So please pray for us as we continue our work in mediation efforts towards an amicable resolving of this prevailing impasse, in which the African child remains the biggest loser. As one who is personally involved in the Religious Intervention for these two areas, I was stunned to hear the advanced reasons, illogic, and supposed corroborating evidence for keeping the children away from schools and education. These vary from a need for a 135km tar road, to wild  claims of lack of service delivery, the removal of a mayor and the sitting of an ANC Branch.

Consulting with all relevant stakeholders led me to conclude that a disservice is done to the African child in the name of many things. In our house visits in for example Olifantshoek, I was moved to tears in conversation with parents and particular mothers when these proved adamant and immovable that the schools will remain closed until the shifting demands of the ‘community’ is met. I was challenged to my core to make sense of the logic for this, and  could not but stand gob-smacked by the insistence of parents in a sense of blind rage. This is the recipe for failing the African child, when the constitution is explicit on the child’s right to an education, and the African child with Apartheid already has an entrenched backlog.

The agony of my challenge is made self- evident in one particular  incident,  where a matriculant who chose to sit for the final exams in Keimoes at one of the Provincial ‘camps’ established, currently receives counselling because her parents refuse to speak with her branding her a sell-out. I watched our 17year old African children have to make tough choices in protection of their households. I saw 8 and 9 year olds, sitting on street corners used to observe who attends the meetings and report with military precision to the new community leadership who attended what meeting, rendering all those vulnerable for attack in petrol bomb manifestation.

I watched clergy deeply divided in political agenda of their own and wild in their utterances. I saw the plight of confused grade one faces, which have been abruptly drawn into an ugly political contest of adults in which self- interest is a guiding principle. I heard people say ‘ons wil ook n slag eet- hulle eet alleen’.

 

Baffled by the myriad of claims against others (which is not my right to adjudicate), I watched how many sought for them an opportunity to shine in the midst of the agony of this reality. We watched how the Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela too in typical proverbial cowboy style rode into these affected communities and pronounce on the processes when she had less understood the dichotomies and stark realities our deliberations and mediation encountered. Later she  too would concede in frustration it is only the church that can solve the impasse.

I have never seen communities so divided. We heard the agony of educators threatened by scholars, ‘meneer pass one pass all’ claims. We led meetings and saw how people one after the other disappear for fear that their homes will be petrol-bombed for attending these meetings.

We sat with young men, aged 19- 22 who have overnight risen to power and became the leaders of a community, some who never completed their grade 12, yet now leads the community in school closure. We witnessed politicians scared to enter their own constituencies and ask that we religious leaders lead the process.

Yet of all the faces I have seen, nothing and none other than the questioning grade 1 faces stuck in my memory and occupied the stratum of pensive reflection relentlessly. I awoke at nights  3 am in the morning and the agony of schools closure arrest me for I know my three boys goes to university and school every day without intimidation.

If I stand today before you graduates, teachers, educators, parents, spouses, esteemed community leaders, and our honouree Mrs. Foster who for 45 years have remained loyal to the calling of teaching, it is with a deep sense of trepidation and somewhat concern.

A concern borne from the state of our education yet more so the role of our parents in pursuance of this much-needed education. If I say the face of the grade 1 has gripped me, it is because the excitement of the grade one, as he/she enters the 12-year cycle remains a reality. I believe we owe the African child  more than what we are willing to give. The best we can give the African child is his/her opportunity to be educated to free him/her from the triplets of powerty, inequality and unemployment.

At this graduation of ECD educators and our special programme for our honouree, we must pause and ask ourselves some critical questions:

We can attempt to shift the blame to government, to apartheid to whomever but we cannot abdicate our conjoined Biblically instructed mandate as exacted by the God of our faith to lead our children.

The Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga a few days ago  in De Aar was correct to remonstrate that parents cannot blame her department when their children engage in illicit irresponsible conjugal activities with a resultant effect of unwanted and early pregnancies.

In our country, we have developed a blame game mind-set in which we always want to play victim and make others villains. I am on record for having said Education remains the one flagship choice all administrations  of post-apartheid missed the opportunity to make.  You can falter  President Robert Mugabe on many things but when Zanu- PF came to power in 1980 Zimbabwe faced a collective of 9 critical impaired challenges, Yet Mugabe made one choice as his flagship, EDUCATION. The rest is history, because Zimbabweans are educated people who take education serious.

Notwithstanding our increasing expenditure on education as a priority amongst others, the disparity in a felt reality of such remains visible. The Government if expenditure on percentage of our fiscus is the guiding light remains committed to educating the African child yet there are many complexities, dialectical tensions, and competing interests that often overshadow the true expenditure question. Equally, succesful education programme requires more than money it must be rooted in responsible parenting. The answers are not easy for in all this there is role and aspect that warrant examination, I am afraid the Government and DBED is not the only role player contrary to what is bandied around.

We  parents have a distinguished and colossal role to fulfil.

  • We cannot claim a right to parenthood when we firstly show no interest in our school attending children’s academic life. Parenting means guiding our children in the right way, that includes our children being exposed to our direct interest in the actual curriculum and daily homework schedule.
  • We cannot claim a right to parenting without accepting we need to participate in the life of schooling with our children. That literally means active engagement in the School Governing Board structures of the respective schools our children attends.
  • We cannot claim a right to parenthood when we have not set together with our children individually and collectively annual academic goals for which we together develop a programme to be attained.
  • We cannot claim a right to parenthood if we cannot create an environment for education in our home fronts. That literally means TV, cell-phone, social media time restricted to accommodate effective and due time for the holistic development of our children.
  • We dare not claim a right to parenthood, if we allow our children to get away with doing homework before school, and we append our signatures as if it was about the signatures in the first place.
  • We dare not claim our parental rights if we have allowed our children regardless to how much we do for them at all fronts get away with 40% pass rates as a standard.
  • There is something wrong in our parenting if we spend our income on acquiring the latest fad of cell-phone technology for our children but cannot arrange for them for extra classes for the classes they struggle.
  • We have failed in parenting if we can mislead our children to believe a road, a politician or an aspect of service delivery is more important than them receiving education.
  • We have failed when we model to our children a lacklustre attitude of non-chalant behaviour in which we blame everyone but ourselves for the state of our education.
  • There is something wrong when parents are not bothered that our communities have school going children roaming on street corners during the hours of 8am – 2pm. There is something wrong if we as parents can smoke with our children and never challenge them as to why they are absent from school.

I guess I am arguing it is time we accept our responsibility of bringing the children back to God, the One who provides them an opportunity to improve themselves, the God who has established the institution of marriage, family and government.

If we today in 2012 sit with crises of education, it is directly related to our non-involvement in the lives in particular the school lives of the African child.

Yet we equally are here to congratulate our graduates for having completed the 2012 academic year and for now proving ready to serve as ECD educators and staff. ECD remains our critical area for cognitive development the foundation phase of childhood development and the premise from which we advance to a basic education, ultimately a tertiary education and eventually a readiness to contribute meaningfully in the demands and requirements that our evolving society asks for. Therefore as ECD educators you must know and appreciate the importance of your role in our children’s development, you cannot treat this aspect of education with a lacklustre attitude but be progressively conscious of the trust parents extend to place their children in your care.

It is this conviction that EDUBUILD is premised on. It is an unquestionable purpose that EDUBUILD emanates from, it is this foundation EDUBUILD from inception in evolving context shared. A persuasion deeply rooted in the centrality of appreciation for the greatest gifts we have been blessed with namely our children. Out of such conviction and faith, EDUBUILD seeks to engender culture and ethic of nurturing, cognitive growth, development, and holistic care, building the next generation one child at a time.

This ethic is embodied in the lifelong work of the person, women, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend and educator, Lady Foster. When we discussed the honouring of her life in this season it is out of the conviction that she is the mirror image of the real educator, echoing  from an epoch when teaching was a calling.

When the passion for development was less contaminated with economic well-being, but pristine in virginity of innocence and upright in pursuit. A time when parents valued education as the only key to a future out of the trapped status of poverty, malnutrition and struggle to a better life. When we pause again to remind ourselves of the words in the Matthew 14, Suffer the little children not… we can eloquently declare Mrs. Elizabeth Foster is from such a time, when education represented our only escape from the apartheid shackles of racist classification and definition of people who lived together in Germiston, Sophiatown and many other places like District Six in the Western Cape.

The one we pause and honour today stands unique in her own her illustrious career in education started at Reigerpark Primary and meanders through a number of schools such as Goedehoop Primary, Lakeside Primary,  Coronation Primary and eventually Germiston Primary school.

A true educator at heart and praxis  upon observing the ECD arena discovered that most centres were preparing staff only to care for the children with playing as a base. This propelled her in 1999  to venture out to develop a formalised programme to train ECD staff as proper educators assisting and helping what we now know as Grade R band.

Lady Foster, did this whilst rearing her own  four children plus others, remained active in her church and community context and is affectionately  called until today as we say in Afrikaans ‘Juffrou’.  A title reverently reserved for educators and the wives of the clergy. Not only has she initiated EDUBUILD in that sense but also proved entrepreneurial for launching it with her own limited resources.  Out of this vision many successful ECD centres are operative today.

Today EDUBUILD graduates  excluding the 33 of this year are in access of 400. The EDUBUILD ALUMNI is swiftly moving to 50o an achievement unparalleled given the historical context and the challenges Mrs. Foster had to contend during the many years of seeing her vision crystallise.

We want to pause and pay homage to this veteran of 45 years, this mother of  many, this grandmother, this principal, this educator, this friend and confidante yet for many of us simply JUFFROU, for life. For the many years of sacrifice, the many years of challenge and  thousands of children’ lives you directly impacted.

Lady Foster, you have equally transferred your skills and passion to your children in particular Mrs. Florizel Adolph, who now heads up EDUBUILD and under her leadership, EDUBUILD is bound to increase and grow to new heights and levels. The success of any true leader is the capacity to reproduce oneself in another. Juffrou het daarin geslaag om haarself te dupliseer in Florizel, inderdaad haar kinders is almal betrokke by opvoeding, dit spreuk boekdele van die vaardigheid and begaafdheid van iemand soos Juffrou Foster.

Allow me to conclude by quoting perhaps one of the finest minds of this era former President Thabo M. Mbeki the same one we celebrate as the 11th ANC president in this Centenary Celebration. We thus quote this astute mind when he in 1996 at the adoption by the constitutional assembly of ‘ The Republic of South African Constitutional Bill 1996’ eloquently reminds us “Whatever the setbacks of the moment, nothing can stop us now! Whatever the difficulties, Africa shall be at peace! However improbable it may sound to the sceptics, Africa will prosper” –  ‘ At times, and in fear I have wondered whether I should concede equal citizenship of our country to the leopard and the lion, the elephant and the springbok, the hyena, the black mamba and the pestilential mosquito, A human presence among all these , a feature  on the face of our native land thus defined, I know that none dare challenge me when I say – I am an African”

With this conviction of our African identity as an uncontested, with this our presence here in the confines of our continent a reality beyond reason, let us raise our hands to train African Children, who know who they are, African children free from the trapped state of hopelessness, African children who can dream unencumbered, explore without borders, and define our new canvas economically, politically, morally and with a God consciousness second to none, for this is our moment to let the African child count if we have any hope of a future, if we have any dream of a next generation if we have any persuasion and belief in our emancipation of all encroaching evil whispers.

Let the attitude and mind  of Lady  Foster, a true African resonate in all of us, who could not allow wrong to go in unabated, who could not allow half-measures to prevail, but who became conscious of the greater need, willing to sacrifice any and everything for this convicted cause, until we have today again assembled to celebrate that vision that kept her awake, in 1999.

My solitary plea, we dare not fail the African child in this season in not affording him/her access to education, by creating an environment for learning. It was Marinos the philospher who said ‘TRUE LEARNING FLOURISHES IN CHAOS’. Out of this chaos may we learn as parents prove conscious as Africans to be there for the African child in education demand.

LET US NOT FAIL THE AFRICAN CHILD IN THIS SEASON – WE DO SO AND HISTORY WILL JUDGE US HARSHLY FOR PROVING THIS CARELESS –

Let us be AFRICANS for we can be nothing else… Thank you fellow AFRICANS…

Dr. Clyde N. S. Ramalaine

Patron of Edubuild

Occasion : Edubuild Empowerment Centre Graduation – November 10, 2012 Freeway Park Boksburg

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