There are many factors that shape the future, but perhaps the most important of these is the way in which a country educates its children and young people. As Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful means of changing the world; without it, children can never meet the challenges they’ll have to face as adults.”
As committed global citizens who’ve benefited greatly from access to education ourselves, we believe it’s our responsibility not only to provide the next generations with access to the same quality of education, but to give them pride in the fact that every one of them has an important role to play in creating an equitable, successful society.
This is the inspiration behind the Global Citizen Africa #RaiseTheGrade campaign, which was launched on World Book Day in April. The objectives of the campaign are closely aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and intend to help girls and boys from communities like those we grew up in realise their full potential. Our aim is to raise the funding required to make investments in education, which are necessary to develop South Africa’s human capital in a way that will end extreme poverty, inequality, under-development and muted economic growth.
#RaiseTheGrade aims to galvanise young South Africans to take action and put pressure on government and the corporate sector to significantly step up their efforts to improve access to education. This encompasses a concerted effort to improve the quality of education available to the country’s most vulnerable children and young people so that all can have equal access to social and economic opportunities.
And the need couldn’t be more urgent. Africa is home to the world’s youngest population – 60% of our people are younger than 24. Sadly, it also has some of the worst educational outcomes and highest youth unemployment rates in the world.
The situation is particularly acute here at home. The country’s education system was ranked 75 out of 76 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2015. This is partly due to South Africa’s high inequality index, which has been worsening over the past two decades and is now the highest in the world. It is also due to a complex interaction of historic, governance, policy and social issues, which have resulted in a deficient education system that is arguably the single greatest obstacle to socioeconomic development.
Global Citizen believes that this is the year to consolidate this legacy and #RaiseTheGrade by addressing the early grade reading crisis and high drop-out rates by encouraging government to expand the Early Grade Reading Study (EGRS) across the nation by 2021 and ensure that funds, policy and assessment data are prioritising early grade learning and reading. EGRS is a dedicated package of reading resources – supported by expert reading coaches and lesson plans – specifically designed to improve educational outcomes.
Over the next 18 months, Global Citizen will continue to join forces with campaigners, activists and organisations that are working to improve the quality of education in this country, to identify what is needed in terms of concrete action from government to improve early childhood development and foundational learning, and help further amplify their voices and campaigning efforts.
#RaiseTheGrade represents a much-needed new approach to improving educational outcomes and promoting meaningful socioeconomic development. At present, far too many children have a broken journey through the educational system, which leaves them at a lifelong disadvantage. By calling on young South Africans to take action to help their peers, we are aiming to change the entire dynamic surrounding funding for education and the way in which it is used. Our goal is nothing less than a sure and steady transformation of the education system to empower future generations to build a better future for themselves, their families, their communities and the country as a whole.
We have been pleased to observe the rigorous work that has been done by government to research ways to improve foundational learning and reading through programmes such as the EGRS – a dedicated package of reading resources that includes an expert reading coach to visit teachers in their classrooms and provide lesson plans, as well as new reading and maths resources to improve reading outcomes.
Last month, we announced #TurnThePage, a two-month reading activation to encourage South Africans to donate books to communities in need and promote a culture of reading. Studies show that 62% of South African pupils do not have access to school libraries, and 60% of citizens live in households without a single book. The #TurnThePage activation will celebrate literacy and create meaningful improvements for South African children.
As Madiba aptly put it, “like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation.”
- Chikumbu is Africa director for Global Citizen and Madikana is a medical doctor, a UN policy adviser for Women’s Health and Global Citizen ambassador.
To take part in #TurnThePage and for more information on how to join the movement, visit the Global Citizen website, and follow @GlblCtzn on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, using #BeTheGeneration