Open letter to South African parents of school-going kids

Dear parents. I wish I could start this open letter by congratulating those of you whose kids passed their 2013 matric, but I feel it is too soon to do so. Reason is, while last year has seen the best matric pass rate since 1994, South Africa’s future is still in crisis, and all of us are going to be affected if this situation is not urgently addresses. What I mean by this? Take a pause to consider the following sobering stats: shocking school literacy levels, poor performance in Maths and Science subjects, unacceptable higher education dropout rates, low global competitiveness indexstubbornly high youth unemployment, and high inequality index. All these indicators are directly linked to education. As an example, we are told that 145 000 matriculants will be able to proceed to institutions of higher learning. My back-of-the-matchbox calculation indicates that the remaining 245 000 “who passed” will most probably not be able to get a job, and we know that an even lesser number will make an effort to upgrade their matric subjects this year. So what is going to happen to these kids whose future is potentially in tatters? Clearly, raving about the high matric pass rate without tracking its direct impact on the indicators above can only perpetuate a “mine is bigger than yours” mindset, where numbers become the absolute measure and nothing else really matters.

As we hear, Free State got the best matric results of them all. While we must acknowledge this as a result of the hard work and commitment on the part of teachers and scholars in that province, we must also start asking what we are going to do as parents to ensure that such results are a true reflection of the improving standard of education of our kids overall. Ownership of this responsibility lies with us parents, not the two departments of education.

As things stand, I feel that we, as parents, are failing in our responsibility to ensure that our kids get only the best education they deserve from public schools. For those of us who can afford, we take our kids to best schools, which are typically privately run. But, we know that it’s a tiny number of kids who have this privilege –  and I estimate this to be 1% at most, so what about the rest? Have we resigned ourselves to the reality that we are breeding a generation whose future is doomed because they will be so poorly equipped to deal with challenges as a result of poor quality of education? If that is the case, we might as well brand ourselves as failures.

<img src=http://"Education_Protest_South_Africa_2013.png"?w=150&h=112 alt="Education Protest in South Africa 2013">

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Is our democracy decimating indigenous multilingualism?

Timing of this post is apt, as it is published in the Youth Month in South Africa. It has been 35 years since Soweto students protested on June 16 against usage of Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction under the then Bantu Education system.

Beauty of Linguistics

Linguistics

Let me start by briefly sharing my family history to set the context. My great grandparents moved from Swaziland, their birth place, in the early 1900’s and made South Africa their new home. Both my Zulu-speaking grandfather and father married South Sotho women and raised their respective families in Sharpeville, an area with predominantly South Sotho speaking inhabitants. I can speak 6 Black languages – isiZulu, isiSwati, isiXhosa, Sesotho, Sepedi and Setswana – with varying levels of fluency, of course. While my upbringing was of a typical Black child of my era, I have always had a fascination for indigenous languages.

My back-of-the-match-box maths indicates that a 3rd of Black South Africans can speak more than one indigenous Black language fluently. In my assessment,  the repressive Group Areas Act and associated apartheid laws played a significant role relating to indigenous multilingualism. Let me explain why.

During the apartheid rule, Black kids growing up in racially demarcated areas (“famously” called townships) found around cities, major towns and industrial areas within South African borders spoke at least 2 indigenous Black languages in order to fit in, make friends, fall in love and be able to enjoy the limited pleasures their locales provided. Indigenous multilingualism was by and large influenced by a confluence of the following factors – predominance of population groups in given areas (e.g. aMa-Zulu in KZN, aMa-Xhosa in Eastern Cape, Basotho in the Free State, Bapedi in Limpopo, etc); parents’ search for job opportunities and government-controlled economic migration that was driven by the need for labour in booming mining and manufacturing areas such as the Eastrand, Westrand and Johannesburg; intercultural marriages; general dominance of certain indigenous languages (e.g. isiZulu) over others (Tshivenda); and regulated SABC entertainment with widely popular TV dramas where dialogue was conducted in pure and singular indigenous languages – think of famous characters of the day including Mopheme, Nkwesheng, Ponko, Motsie, Raitlhwana, Deliwe, S’goloza, Nakampe (who later became Pakete in the story), Velaphi, Nolitye, Motlhalefi Molefe, etc – and where sub-titles did not apply. Through the various dramas, TV became an important medium for mass introduction and reinforcement of indigenous languages that average Black kids in some of the various parts of the country would not otherwise have been exposed to. Newly acquired words and phrases heard from the favorite TV characters would be practiced at home with family and especially siblings, friends in the streets where the kids played, and at school.

Indigenous Multilingualism

Talking in Tongues

Essentially, statutory confinement coupled with regulated entertainment during the apartheid era dictated that kids growing up in certain areas of the country had to speak multiple indigenous Black languages as part of developing their social skills. While this segregation system was abhorrent, indigenous Black multilingualism was the beneficiary.

As democracy set in in 1994, no one anticipated that this will lead to the current pervasive use of English and near-obliteration of indigenous South African languages in mostly the higher LSM Black families. Naturally, incidences of indigenous Black multilingualism are dwindling in this section of the population as a consequence. While the first democratically elected South African government introduced legislation officialising the 9 indigenous Black languages alongside English and Afrikaans, this has not stemmed the current declining usage of the former (this has been my observation and is also based on personal constant battle to keep the indigenous language flag flying high in my own family, and I welcome a debate whether this is indeed widespread).

As Blacks are moving into suburbs and/or take their kids to previously White schools where English is the medium of instruction that also gets increasingly spoken in the Black homes – apparently as per school teachers’ advice that Black kids “need to practice the language at home so they can grasp it quickly and cope better in class” – the role of indigenous multilingualism is diminishing. To exacerbate matters, suburban Black kids live behind high walls at home and use digital gadgets that allow them to connect on MIXit and relevant social networks, and these replace physical contact with other Black kids where spoken word would be strengthened, hopefully using indigenous languages. In extreme cases, some Black parents speak only English in interactions with their kids, with the result that they (the kids) cannot speak any indigenous Black language (and this is a bad recipe for preserving a culture, as I wrote in my previous post titled Education, language and culture). For the majority of Black South Africans, the proliferation of TV channels that predominantly use English as a medium, and poetic license used in mixing indigenous languages with English in popular local dramas such as Generations, is putting a further nail in the indigenous multilingualism coffin.

In the final analysis; freedoms of choice, movement and association have dealt a blow to indigenous multilingualism. This has been lead by suburban social lifestyle, the school environment and TV that is still a big form of mass communication.

Should we be worried about the declining indigenous Black multilingualism?

My answer is a resounding yes! Ability to speak multiple indigenous languages is a basic requirement for broader social integration in a country as diverse as South Africa. In other cases, it is a key survival skill. Just ask Black South Africans who speak Xitsonga and Chivenda, and who are still forced to learn other indigenous languages to be able to “fit in”.  Or ask African refugees in South Africa, who face daily challenges due to their inability to communicate in local languages.

What is your view on indigenous multilingualism?

ABOUT ME

I am the founder of eNitiate Integrated Solutions, a digital marketing company. I am also co-founder of Nuffdotty and Diski4life.  I am an infopreneur, digital strategist, avid marketer, and an eternal student.

You can also check out my latest post on InMarketingSpeak, a blog about Marketers’ relationship with digital marketing.

If I were Angie

When the teacher laptop initiative was announced by the previous Minster of Education, Naledi Pandor, in May 2009; it received wide acclaim across the board. While most of us were commending this progressive move, we forgot to ask a key question: how is it going to be implemented from the first of July 2009, the targeted roll-out date? While we should have known better, we felt Department of Education (DoE) deserved benefit of the doubt. The cliché so fitting when it comes to the government came back to haunt us.

All together now: the devil is in the detail.

Teacher Laptop Word Cloud

Teaching Word Cloud

Almost 2 years down the line, teachers are still waiting with bated breaths while DoE is battling to finalize the funding model for buying of laptops. As can be expected, the chorus of concerned media voices is growing (see “Laptops-for-teachers plan falters” in The Times of April 26, 2011). Despite these challenges, I am glad that Angie Motshekga, the Minster of Basic Education, has not once blamed the so-called previous administration for poor planning. My sense is that she is soldiering on because she believes in the initiative. I must declare that I genuinely believe Angie is one of the true action heroes of the present administration. Remember the once-famous OBE that is now in the scrap heap, thanks to her?

OK, enough rambling.

If I were Angie and I had opportunity to relaunch the project, I would start by answering the following basic questions objectively and truthfully despite possible political implications:

  • How do I digitize basic education syllabuses, to strengthen the case for use of computers in class?
  • Given the teacher population that numbers 400 000, how many of them are computer literate and how many have laptops already?
  • How do I convince teachers that using laptops in class will enhance delivery of their lessons, and thereby increase average pass marks?
  • Should I start the roll-out with senior or junior teachers?
  • Linked to the question above, and assuming that seniority is directly linked to time spent in the teaching profession, what is the chance that junior teachers are a better bet as they may be more open to experimenting with digital lessons as compared to senior teachers who may be set in their ways?
  • How do I get all key stakeholders – other government departments, student bodies, school governing bodies, teacher unions, relevant private IT service providers and other interested parties – involved to ensure this project is comprehensively planned, successfully implemented and sustainable?
  • How do I develop a mutually beneficial public-private partnership given scale of the project?
  • In line with the question above, how do I solicit active corporate participation in ensuring all boxes are ticked in relation to specifications of key elements of the project – hardware, operating systems, file management and database management systems, systems interfaces, software, Internet access, hardware and systems security, training, IT support and maintenance?
  • How is this project going to be costed and financed?
  • How are we going to know whether implementation is successful?
  • Lastly, how can we turn this project into an entrepreneurial opportunity, and how do I ensure SMME’s and BBBEE’s benefit from it?

For me, the last question would be important because it is the inverse of an admission that we as the government stuff up otherwise awesome projects due to inherent inefficiencies in the system.

If I were Angie, I would put in place the following initial SWOT based on answers to the questions above, my knowledge of department’s capacity and capabilities and my understanding of the basic education landscape:

 SWOT for Teacher Laptop Initiative

SWOT - Teacher Laptop Initiative

The SWOT analysis would be followed by putting in place a roadmap to ensuring successful implementation of the initiative. As part of developing the roadmap and relaunching the initiative, I would ensure that I stick to my knitting – and that is develop the vision, clearly define rules of the game, ensure a comprehensive plan is in place, outsource the implementation to competent service providers and use robust key performance indicators to keep them true.

Well, of course I am not Angie. But I hope she takes note of my input as a concerned citizen who, like her, believes in the teacher laptop  initiative.

ABOUT ME

I am the founder of eNitiate Integrated Solutions, a digital marketing company. I am also a co-founder of Nuffdotty and Diski4life.  I am an infopreneur, digital strategist, avid marketer, and an eternal student.

You can also check out my latest post on InMarketingSpeak, blog about Marketers’ relationship with digital marketing.

Impact of social networks on written language is concerning

It took longer than I expected to finish this article. Not so much because I am rusted due to time lapse since the last post in this blog, but hopefully the reasons will become clear as you read on.

I learnt that the North-West University Vaal Triangle Campus got all its ±5 000 first year students to write English language assessment exam at the beginning of the first term in February this year. Apparently only 1 in every 300 students passed the exam. This is a shocking result when taken at face value. Well, we know that one of the reasons relates to the “garbage in, garbage out” principle resulting from the sub-standard education that the majority of South African pupils have been receiving for decades now. But, I would like to explore another possible reason for the poor state of written language.

Disclaimer: The results above were not verified with the University, but suffice to say a sizable amount of the first years failed the exam.

Written Business Communications

Written Business Communications

After spending large amounts of time posting and commenting on Facebook and Twitter in the last 6 months, I am battling to use “proper” written language. While I don’t mind social networking-type shorthand with words such as Tx, K, LMao, lol, OMG, gr8 or L8er when I write to family and friends; most of my written language applies in business communications where an innocent spelling mistake can lead to undesirable perceptions being formed about one’s level of intelligence by prospective partners and clients. Consider that set standards in business communications came into effect long before the advent of social networking, and the likelihood of them changing to accommodate this new tsunami is muddled by the debate in the academic circles that it is a “flavor of the month”.

Given my battle with what I call the social networking language creep, the question that has increasingly been bugging me is: what about the generation who were born from the mid 1980’s, and who are ardent users of Facebook, MXit and Twitter? Can they string a paragraph together using “proper” written language in line with Business Communications 101? While this post is  from a South African perspective, I am certain that written language as we used to know it is under threat across the world due to the pervasive impact of social networking on how we construct sentences.

I hear you asking what is the relevance of being born after 1980? Well, this generation still has a few more years to bed down business communication writing skills due to limited working experience (that is, for those who are lucky to have work). Thus, unlike me, their battle with the social networking language creep is even harder.

Is this another stark reminder that new technologies are de facto changing the way written language should be taught in all academic institutions and applied in the business world? Is this a bad thing? What do you think?

ABOUT ME

I am the founder of eNitiate Integrated Solutions, a digital marketing company. I am also a co-founder of Nuffdotty and Diski4life.  I am an infopreneur, digital strategist, avid marketer, and an eternal student.

You can also check out my latest post on InMarketingSpeak, blog about Marketers’ relationship with digital marketing.

South Africa: Institutions of higher learning are in a quagmire

The big question faced by higher education institutions in our young democracy is how to increase Black student numbers and maintain higher pass and graduation rates, which currently seems like having a cake and eating too.

Student Participation in Higher Education

Participation by SA Black Students

On one hand, the participation of Black students in higher education has increased from 49% in 1994 to 64% in 2008. While this has been good progress, a 2005 study by HSRC indicated that 40% of  first year students drop out of university, with the bulk of them being Black. Clearly this shows that the legacy of apartheid continues to haunt the country’s education system.

The challenge faced by higher education institutions is illustrated by the following 2 cases:

  • About 3 weeks ago certain political parties and their formations, the national student body and interested civil organisations were up in arms when several universities indicated that they have raised admission requirements in a bid to attract cream of the crop and thereby stem the current high failure rate that is said to have the potential of adversely affecting the institutions’ global competitiveness.
  • This week the University of Cape town’s Medical Faculty was in the spotlight for its admissions policy which requires Black students to meet more modest admission requirements, while White students’ admission requirements are the most stringent. This policy, it is hoped, will naturally lead to more Black students being accepted into this faculty than would normally be the case. The university asserts that Black students come from an inferior educational background and thus deserve special dispensation. Interestingly, this policy is decried by both sides as discriminating. Voices representing Black students say it is demeaning to those it is trying to help, and White interest groups say it is disadvantaging to White students.

With education being at the core of SA government’s attempts to improve in the main living conditions of its poverty-stricken Black citizens, the Department of Education has been focusing on increasing participation of Black students at higher education institutions as guided by the country’s population strata. As a result, higher education institutions are being incentivised for achieving higher enrolment targets that will naturally benefit Black student intake through allocated government subsidies (included in the higher education budget of R15.3 billion for 2009).

The quagmire comes in when higher education institutions have to make a choice of chasing numbers (which favours Black students) versus attracting high calibre of students (who are mainly White). What tends to be the case here is that institutions that depend mainly on government funds for survival will do the former, while institutions that are able to source private funding or which are competing for global recognition tend to do the latter.

Whichever way one looks at it, the challenge of making higher education accessible to the majority of students and achieving the desired pass and qualification rates is still a long way for South Africa.

Mkhulu William Seyama is an avid marketer, digital strategist, infopreneur and founder and CEO of eNitiate Integrated Solutions, a digital marketing agency that uses a robust and holistic approach in ensuring that clients achieve their online objectives effectively, from developing comprehensive online strategies, to ensuring hassle-free online purchase of products.

Mkhulu is also currently working on an exciting project aimed at connecting the dots between choice of higher education studies and eventual employment opportunities. Check out http://nuffdotty.co.za for more on the project

Education, language and culture

Mao's Last Dancer

Mao's Last Dancer

I just came back from watching ‘Mao’s Last Dancer‘ at the cinema and it inspired me to write this post.

One of my home languages is South Sotho and I speak it with great pride. Home language forms the context of this post.

When my older daughter started her grade 1 several years ago in an English medium school, her teacher advised that my wife and I must try and speak the “Queen’s language” to her as often as possible to help fast-track her grasp of it. My response to the teacher was that we will use English all the time as a medium of instruction, but we will not deprive our daughter the opportunity of being fluent in her home language as this is an important part of learning her African culture.

UNESCO considers that “providing education in a child’s mother tongue is indeed a critical issue”.

My daughter is now in a secondary suburban school, she is fluent in spoken English and more than one African language, she is fully grounded in her African culture, and she easily adapts to western ways of doing things if circumstances call for it.

Call me a traditionalist, but I hold a strong view that language is integral to embracing culture. As a result, I have a fundamental problem with an increasing number of Black parents who happily encourage their kids to speak English exclusively, all in the belief that this will provide the best opportunity for the kids to do well at school and in life in general. The unfortunate outcome is that some (if not most) of these kids battle to ‘fit in’ when visiting families in rural areas and townships, where South African indigenous languages are the order of the day. The ultimate potential is that the affected kids withdraw from learning the Black culture and become lost souls as the English culture is also too foreign to adopt!

The big question then is whether a culture-less  generation is good for the future of a society as whole? My answer is an absolute NO. What is yours?

In closing, I enjoyed ‘Mao’s Last Dancer‘ and give it a 4/5 rating. I am certainly not a movie buff, but I urge people who watch it to actively and intellectually engage with the issues raised; and especially sacrifices that are associated with the determination to succeed.

ABOUT ME

I am the founder of eNitiate Integrated Solutions, a digital marketing company. I am also a co-founder of Nuffdotty and Diski4life.  I am an infopreneur, digital strategist, avid marketer, and an eternal student.

You can also check out my latest post on InMarketingSpeak, blog about Marketers’ relationship with digital marketing.

I am also currently working on an exciting project aimed at connecting the dots between choice of higher education studies and eventual employment opportunities. Check out http://nuffdotty.co.za for more on the project.

Attended Launch of Nelson Mandela Career Guidance Campaign

I did a 10-hour round trip on Madiba’s birthday, the 18th of July, to Giyani in Limpopo to witness and participate in the launch of the Nelson Mandela Career Guidance Campaign by the Department of Higher Education (DHE). 10 schools from around Limpopo attended the launch, and I estimate that 3 000 pupils attended. The launch was lead by DHE Minister Dr Blade Nzimande, supported by his Director General, Professor Mary Metcalfe. Also in attendance were the heavyweights in the higher education fraternity such as Umalusi CEO, Dr Mafu Rakometsi and the various SETA’s.

I contributed my 67 minutes in line with theme of the day by joining the bubbly Ms Rhulani Baloyi where we spoke about career choices in Communications with the learners interested in this field. I was glad I spent the time giving back, but it hit me yet again that a lot more needs to be done to make career information available to the learners generally, and especially those from rural areas.

As part of my purpose for attending the launch, I collected tons of career-related books and brochures. I was amazed at the amount of information that is available in the market, but learners continue to be none the wiser as I pointed out above.

The only explanation for the paradox above is that available information is not easily accessible, and/or it is not properly packaged given the profile of targeted readers. Let’s face it, learners generally do not like reading hordes of “serious material”. Give them Daily Sun, Sunday World or People Magazine and you are talking their language.

The $1 million question then is,  how else can the same valuable information be packaged and distributed in such a way that it hits the same chord? Now, therein lies the business idea.

ABOUT ME

I am the founder of eNitiate Integrated Solutions, a digital marketing company. I am also a co-founder of Nuffdotty and Diski4life.  I am an infopreneur, digital strategist, avid marketer, and an eternal student.

You can also check out my latest post on InMarketingSpeak, blog about Marketers’ relationship with digital marketing.