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Wayne Russell
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Letter to my beloved country, South Africa

26 July 2014, 12:56
I was born and raised within your borders. I plan to grow old and die within your borders. As of year 2014 I have lived abroad for 16 years. Since abroad I have obtained higher education in Texas, kindergarten through 12th grade teaching and school leadership experience, and five years of work experience in a U.S. university; promoting educational opportunities in America to students in Asia. This university role took me across the Pacific a half dozen times to talk with high school and college students about studying in the U.S.

     My wife and I, with our two children, are currently on our annual home visit in the Eastern Cape. Over the past weeks I have had multiple conversations with South African citizens about tertiary education. I have deliberately spoken to educators, parents, business owners, and today, to a student advisor at a local higher education institution. During our meeting, the student advisor told me that education is not for everyone. Yes, this belief was explicitly expressed by a person whose job is to encourage people to study further. She went on to brag that President Zuma only had a 3rd grade education (This has not been fact checked). Whether true or not, I couldn't believe that someone in education would so blatantly say that not everyone was made to get an education. This struck a definite chord.

     In the past 16 years I have taught in schools where 90% of students were officially labelled by the government as low-income, and qualified for services like a free or reduced price school lunch everyday. We also provided a hot breakfast to these low-income children everyday. The food they ate at our school was sometimes the best nutrition they received all week. Now this may be difficult to believe, but 100% of these low-income children, through a lot of hard work and dedication to our school's mission, were accepted into numerous tertiary institutions across America. Whether two year community colleges that confer associate degrees and certificates, or a four-year public or private university; every single student went to college.

     The predominant and strengthening philosophy in America (and Asia) is that EVERY child should attend college. Whether their studies turn into two or four year degrees is not always emphasized. The emphasis is that every child, even the poor who do not have resources for college, should try to attend some schooling beyond high school, whether vocational training or traditional university education. 100% of children; poor, and rich, white, and black should receive some form of tertiary education.

     I, along with countless other professionals around the world, believe that:
  • All children can learn.
  • All children have the ability and can develop the stamina to study past grade 12.
  • All children can be accepted into at least one tertiary institution.
  • A high school diploma is no longer enough in a global economy.
  • A resume needs to contain educational achievements to survive (and thrive) in our world.
  • Experience is essential. However, experience at the expense of education is detrimental to the health and prosperity of a nation.
     My beloved South Africa, I do not claim to have all the answers on how to change the educational expectations of a nation. I do have an interest to work with you on change, in whatever capacity I can muster. Every positive action, no matter how small, matters.

     Proudly South African,

     Wayne Russell
     Shanghai, China
     Tweeting @GlobalEdNow
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