Education: a rock and a hard place

The question of development of poor countries is a complex one. Growing up in the Eastern Cape I have always felt that the province is a microcosm of what Africa is to the world. Our issues are similar to those of Africa (corrupt leaders, poor education and low literacy levels, high levels of unemployment and few opportunities for civic involvement, poor townships and rural areas). I recently drove through the Eastern Cape from Kwazulu Natal, another predominantly rural province and the schism between the rich and the poor is tangible.

I have always been able to traverse the different realities in SA, both the privileged and poor realities. My education has been what set me apart and allowed me better opportunities that are often inaccessible to girls from working class families (and many of the women in my own family). By highlighting education (amongst many experiences in my life) as being the catalyst to the opportunities I have suggests that I think that education is the panacea for the world’s problems. And given that I want to be a teacher, I am biased towards the importance of education.

But I can’t help but wonder the error of the idea that education is the be-all and end-all to the world’s problems. I won’t go into the complexities of what education really means and for the sake of making sense, by education I mean a formal education associated with institutions, teachers, books etc. Central to education is being literate and numerate and having skills necessary for employment etc. By emphasising that without education very little can change in the world especially developing countries, minimises the strides that uneducated people have made in changing their realities across the world. It’s almost as though people who are not educated are doomed and have nothing to add to the world. Reading the book Half the sky: How to change the world has left me with mixed emotions. I am inspired and enraged. The book looks into the experience of women empowerment in poor countries mostly in Asia and Africa. There are true life stories of uneducated women changing their lives from being sex slaves as young girls to being entrepreneurs in one lifetime. Many of them do this without a university degree.

I just can’t help but wonder that the value of education is given the poor literacy levels we already face in SA. Currently we reproduce an unhealthy society where children from working class homes receive a poor education will be relegated to opportunities that limit them or a lack of opportunities period! To be crude, we will always have a thriving working class in South Africa with smatterings of the exceptional children making it out shacks and almost invisible homesteads in rural areas being faced with the moral dilemma of climbing up the slopes of success or building the communities they come from.

Something’s got to give if education is really the answer to the change we wish to see in the world.

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