Active citizens go back to school

2013-05-20 10:00

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Cyril Ramaphosa was among 1500 South Africans this week who headed to classrooms in need to lend a helping hand

Nearly 1 500 South Africans from 40 local companies went back to school this week. They were joined by some of the parents of the pupils.

As part of the second annual Back to School for a Day initiative, these companies and their staff visited 80 schools across the country.

They organised career guidance and workshops about tertiary education and bursary opportunities, motivational talks, computer-training sessions and debate workshops.

Many companies got involved in the painting of classrooms and sports-ground renovations.

Companies cleaned up vegetable gardens, built shelves, and stocked libraries with books and educational resources.

Learners received winter clothing parcels, stationery, blankets and resources for their classrooms.

This initiative, organised by the Adopt-a-School Foundation, is a demonstration of the kind of active citizenship South Africa needs if we are to meet and overcome the social challenges we face.

This is a central plank of the National Development Plan, which says all South Africans must contribute and work towards realising the vision of a cohesive society.

Citizens need to speak out when things that affect their lives are going wrong.

They need to participate in community and government processes, particularly at a local level. Importantly, they need to initiate and get involved in programmes that directly improve living conditions in communities.

Back to School for a Day resonates with the Active Citizens Charter recently launched by James Motlatsi and Bobby Godsell.

Supported by 100 patrons, it represents a call to all South Africans to take responsibility for themselves, their families, their communities and their country.

Citizens are invited to commit to the values of active citizenship in the charter and to engage in personal action to realise the following vision: “Each day I use the resources I have – at home, at school or college, in my workplace – to do things that create more value for our society.”

The thousands of company employees who visited schools this week were involved in activities that do create more value for society.

They contributed time, skills, knowledge and enthusiasm to some of the country’s most disadvantaged schools. In some cases, they improved the physical environment in which learning and teaching takes place.

In others, they provided encouragement and inspiration, and imparted information and skills to pupils and teachers. In all instances, they had a positive impact.

The benefits of this interaction are not limited to the schools.

The companies gained greater insight into the challenges facing the education system and now have a better understanding of the interventions needed.

They got an opportunity to deepen the partnership that many of the companies have established with schools through the adoption programme in which many of them participate.

The occasion has also been found to have a positive impact on the morale and social commitment of the staff of each company.

It is perhaps no coincidence that education is foremost among the areas identified by the active citizens initiative.

Education must be at the centre of all our efforts to build a prosperous society in which all enjoy equal opportunities and equal benefit.

It has the greatest potential to grow our economy in a sustainable manner and to empower all our people. It is also one of the areas of greatest need.

Government cannot address the challenges of education on its own.

Education is a societal issue, and all within society – wherever they may find themselves – need to be involved in efforts to improve it.

This includes, for example, those in proximity to a school – pupils, teachers, managers, parents and community members. But it also needs to include those who may find themselves at some distance from schools in need.

There remains a great divide between those who have resources and those who most need them. This divide is social, economic and geographical.

The schools that need the greatest support are often at some distance from the companies and individuals that have the means to provide that support. Even where they are close by, such as in mining areas, they are often hidden.

Back to School for a Day is part of an effort to bring these schools into view.

It aims to draw the attention of corporate South Africa to the needs of these schools and to demonstrate practical ways in which business can help the development of these schools.

That single day had a significant impact on the tens of thousands of pupils and teachers who were reached.

But the day is also part of a broader effort to involve companies, their employees and able individuals in supporting disadvantaged schools.

Through the Adopt-a-School Foundation, companies and individuals are able to adopt schools, forging a partnership that extends over several years.

Based on the needs of the school, applying a model of whole-school development, a plan is designed to improve the environment for learning and teaching. This involves infrastructure-, skills- and social-development interventions.

To date, 40 schools have been renovated and three new schools have been built. More than 900 stakeholders and teachers have been trained, broadening teachers’ and principals’ skills in leadership, management, counselling, computer training, library management, language, mathematics and other relevant disciplines.

More than 3 900 temporary jobs have been created and more than 390 small to medium businesses have benefited. In total, more than R100 million has been invested in schools through the foundation.

Back to School for a Day has grown tremendously since the inaugural event last year, in which 16 companies participated.

This year, we had 40 companies. We hope it will expand further in future. Yet this is only one way in which people can support the improvement of our schools.

There are many more schools in need and we are looking to the active citizens of this country to support them.

» Ramaphosa is deputy ANC president

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