What started as a peaceful protest, ended up as a tragedy. The Soweto uprising on 16 June 1976 served as one of the pivotal moments in South Africa’s rise to democracy. While Youth Day – and as an extension, Youth Month – commemorates and honours those who made the ultimate sacrifice for equality in education, it also shines the spotlight on the state of education today.
The right to education is a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, despite what the youth fought so hard for in 1976, and despite year on year increased government budget allocations for education, all children in South Africa still do not have access to quality basic education.
The National Development Plan’s vision is that by 2030, South Africans will have universal access to early childhood education, high-quality schooling, further education and training. That seems like a pipe dream considering that many schools today are still substandard, don’t have the necessary resources, and teachers are not motivated and well supported. In fact, thousands of children don’t even have access to schools, while thousands more fail to complete their schooling, or simply aren’t adequately prepared to make a meaningful contribution to society.
Education is linked to all development goals, such as supporting gender empowerment, improving child and maternal health, reducing hunger, fighting the spread of diseases and poverty, encouraging economic growth and creating peace. To ensure that these goals are achieved, our main objective should be ensuring that all children have access to quality basic education, with the focus on literacy and numeracy.
Why is literacy and numeracy so important?
Children who do not learn to read, write and communicate effectively at primary level are more likely to leave school early, be unemployed, have poorer emotional and physical health, and to end up in poverty, or in prison.
Poor literacy and numeracy is also linked to truancy, exclusion, alcohol or drug abuse, increased health risks and greatly reduced life chances. The resultant impact is generation after generation of children not achieving their full human potential.
As a component of basic education and a foundation for lifelong learning, literacy and numeracy is the key to enhancing human capabilities. It offers wide-ranging benefits not only for individuals, but also for families, communities and society as a whole.
Poor basic education not only violates every child’s basic human rights; it affects us all. It influences the economy, it hampers personal development, and it deprives people of a decent life. By getting the basic foundations right, we can pave the way for literate and empowered future generations, enabling them to realise their full potential. What better way to honour the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for equality in education?