The future does not look good for a South African child living in rural areas and townships. A range of challenges will face our children in the near future ranging from economic challenges to social challenges. My focus is the role of education (or lack of education) in preparing our children for the near future. Of course most people agree that education is a key to success; it is the implementation that I am worried about. There are many role players in education; in fact, every adult must be a role player in children’s education. There is however a tendency of shifting roles by most adults regarding who is directly responsible for children’s education. Needless to say that teachers are the most important assets in education; however, are they really prepared to prepare children for the future? What about parental involvement? Are parents well equipped to prepare children for the coming future filled with so many uncertainties?
Most adults believed Dr H.F Verwoerd, the then Prime Minister and architect of Apartheid in 1953 when he discouraged the teaching of Mathematics and science for his own political agenda. It seems to me that most adults believed that Mathematics and science was not meant for black Africans. I say this because I have been observing the responses of most adults (teachers included) when a girl child express interest in Mathematics and Science. The most common responses are: “are you sure you want to choose Mathematics at grade 10? That thing is difficult”. Some parents (including teachers, older brothers and sisters) would go to the extent of choosing subjects for their children hoping just for a mere pass. This naïve view of Mathematics and science has been passed on from generations to generations in black communities; of course with few exceptions. More and more children dropout of school or choose subjects without projecting what will happen in the near future. This is obviously a societal problem that most adults choose to ignore. I think the mind-set of adults need a serious paradigm shift in order to prepare children for the future.
Some sociologists assert that the mind-set that most adults (black) have is due to socio-economic factors. I am tempted to agree with this notion as I have observed the behaviour of white engineering students compared to black engineering students. I then conducted a small research using ex post facto approach to determine the cause of the differences between this two groups (white and black students). The findings were obviously dependant on participants; however, I observed that fear was mostly attributed to the observed behaviour. For example, when a white parent buys a brand new toy for his/her son/daughter, he/she allow the child to explore they toy. The child can separate they toy car and he/she will be encouraged to assemble it back to its initial state. The child might struggle at first but through trial and error methods the car will be assembled. The same cannot be said with black parents. The situation is totally different. A black child will get a serious whooping if he/she unscrewed a brand new toy car. The parents are always concerned about how much the toy cost. The child is therefore deprived the opportunity to explore and learn new skills. It is then inevitable that as adults the black engineering student will have fear to open a transformer in science laboratory. Many things come to his/her mind, fear of breaking things and mostly punishment associated with breaking things. The white child on the other hand will open the transformer confidently and ask even more questions related to what is being explored at the time. To rectify the situation, one must change the mind-set of the black engineering student. I think more importantly, the mind-set that ought to be altered is that of the parents (black). What is the implication of this problem? Most importantly what is the proposed solution?
We have already entered the fourth industrial revolution and at least the media is catching up in terms of raising awareness. There will be more changes (some already observed) in society as a whole. Changes will be in economics, health care, education and almost every aspect of our daily lives. To compound the uncertainty is that there will be jobs that we cannot even imagine at the current stage. In all this changes we are certain that Mathematics and science are the corner stone or foundation of all the observed developments. It is not therefore absurd to infer that mathematics and science education are the main building blocks required in the education of our children if we want to prepare them for this industrial revolution. Sadly, when ranked by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study over the years, South African schools performed poorly compared to other countries. That is why my opening line said: “The future does not look good for a South African child living in rural areas and townships”. Needless to say that if we as adults choose to ignore this our children will be unemployable. With the current rate of unemployment, one can only wonder what will happen to the youth when the fourth industrial revolution is fully blown. I foresee those with skills (prepared with good education earlier) taking over the country with no hope for the black child.
The solution to this cannot be one. A variety of approaches is needed to change the status quo. The most obvious solution is to prioritize Mathematics and science education, not only on policy but in implementation. The curriculum advocates for skills (critical thinking, problem solving etc.) required in the fourth industrial revolution on paper; however, implementation is painting a different picture. Of course South African education receives the most budget in Africa. I am really puzzled that the results do not reflect what is on paper. Some would argue that part of the money goes to school infrastructure. I then get more puzzled when more than 3000 schools are using pit toilets. Development of the toilets was forced by the fact that amongst others, 5-year-old Michael fell into the pit toilet at his school and died. Does it take death of children for adults to use the allocated so-called budget. What would it take for this budget to be used correctly on teacher training and correct implementation of the curriculum? Are we waiting for the robots to take over? I am afraid the forth industrial revolution is growing exponentially while the current education system is not catching up. What about the silence of other role players (private companies, business people)? I think it is high time we stop being egocentric and think about our children. The future is filled with uncertainties for children: Adults must prepare the future generation. After all it is the right thing to do.