The F-word: Nothing wrong with being the best

2012-07-21 10:18

There is an expression that those who build a school close a prison. In the South African case, it would be a half-truth.

Schools are of little use if they do not teach skills that help those who go through the education process to acquire creative and legal means to make a living for themselves and their families.

In fact, there is common agreement by educationists and parties interested in education systems that our system shows a poor return on investment.

Put differently, if education were a department in a corporation, the shareholders would probably vote for the company to close that division of the business.

Confronted by the poor outcomes of the education system and what is euphemistically referred to as “correctional” services, it would appear that schools and prisons – as they currently are – are a drain on the country’s resources.

Both unfortunately are unavoidable expenses, at least until we can find a better way of dealing with the socially deviant or of producing skills necessary to the economy.

It’s beggars belief that after so many years of proven failure to produce desired outcomes, we still do not have in place, at the very least, pilot projects that could serve as alternative models to what we have now.

The DA’s Wilmot James said about a month ago that the state spends about R5 000 more per prisoner than it does on a social grant recipient.

Nobody contradicted him.

Supposing he is right, shouldn’t the state be investing more money in those vulnerable to landing up in prison or being on social welfare?

The textbooks saga again deprives our most marginalised compatriots of a fair shot in life, meaning that future budgets will have no option but to pencil in billions of rands for more prisoners and more social grants.

We will keep on talking about the unsustainability of the social grants and the inevitability of prisons until we start seeing institutions of excellence in those communities that are the most hopeless.

It is when the children of Gugulethu or Seshego start seeing in their own communities schools that produce young men and women who make it big in life that they, too, will want to be part of such schools.

Hopefully, other youngsters in other communities will start demanding the same for their neighbourhoods.

This requires a mind shift that recognises the difference between being elite or elitist.

The elite strive to be the best at what they do, while an elitist thinks that his or her station in life gives him or her the right to be condescending to those climbing the ladder.

In communities that breed grant receivers and prisoners, mediocrity and being “down with the people” has been made an article of faith.

Those who demand more of themselves and of what life has to offer are contemptuously labelled as making themselves “better”, as if that is a shameful ambition to harbour.

There already are a few great schools in many communities. These exist despite the lack of state impetus to make them centres of excellence.

They are the lucky outcomes of landing an excellent principal able to marshal teachers to produce great results and are helped along by the diligence of the children they teach.

Such schools are merely fortunate exceptions.

The state has to institutionalise in the most marginalised the desire to be the elite, to be the best they can be in the areas of life that matter.

Our youth have to know that their drive to be accepted at “that” school is as acceptable as wanting to impress the Idols judges, or to be the best dribbler of the ball.

Perhaps that way we might cut expenditure on prisons and social grants while using education as a means to a better life for all.

» Follow me on Twitter @fikelelo

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