Over the last few years South Africa has suffered what has become commonly known as the ‘Brain Drain’. Many people we have helped to educate have left our shores for what they believe to be a brighter future elsewhere. Consequently we have been left with a shortage of professionally qualified people in a number of key sectors.
As one response, the Department of Education is on a drive to improve the maths and science qualifications of students in South Africa. As a result, most corporate donors are now focusing their funding only on projects that are directly related to maths and science, thus cutting out a huge section of the community.
The majority of students in this country do not believe that it is even worth finishing schooling career. They feel that there are very few job opportunities available to them, even with a matric certificate. To some it appears that crime has become big business and is often an easier way to make a living than by honest means. Drug abuse also becomes a means of getting from day to day. They have no role models, and are very often young people heading up households because their parents are no longer around.
I believe that we need to teach our youth more about morals and values than maths and science. They need to learn life skills before they can qualify as doctors or engineers. They need to be made aware that they all have potential; they just need to be helped to achieve it. As many young people live in negative environments it becomes very easy to for them to say “I can’t do that”, when in fact they should be saying that they can do anything they put their minds to.
Unfortunately our current political situation does not offer very many positive role models. Our youth are not finding anything to aspire to or people they would like to emulate.
There are a number of organisations around that offer life skills training which could help young people. Outward Bound South Africa is one such organisation. Young people involved in life skills programmes are equipped with the character, will, values and self-believe to live their lives to the fullest and to constantly make the right choices. Through transforming individuals, we could ultimately transform whole communities.
Through life skills programmes, students are taught, through adventure, to face and overcome their fears. They do things that they never believed they could, or would, ever do in their lives. They see stars at night, listen to the quiet of the bush and watch the sunrise from a mountain top. These are all things many would never experience where they live and things that many of us take for granted. They climb mountains and abseil down, canoe across great expanses of water and build temporary structures that enable them to cross rivers.
Through these activities they learn not only perseverance, but that if they can complete them – activities that they would never have imagined doing in the first place – then there is very little in life that they cannot do. If they can get up at four o’clock in the morning to climb a mountain in the dark, why can’t they get up early to finish studying for important exams? If they can hike 10 kilometres a day, why can they not make an effort to go to school every day?
They work as teams in these programmes and very quickly learn to see the importance of good team work and leadership qualities. They are taught that for every one of their actions there is a consequence – whether good or bad. If they take the wrong route around the mountain they may have to set up camp in the dark and cook their food by moonlight. This is a consequence of bad planning. Is that not what life is about?
How can we expect our students to all want to study maths and science when many of them can not even see any future for themselves? We need to teach them that each one of them can make a difference – for those that have the ability to go ahead and study at university level as well as those who can make a difference by setting up a vegetable garden for their community.
All the youth of our country have potential. They simply need to be made to realise this and to acknowledge that they are all better than they believe themselves to be. Once they have done this, they will be far better prepared to enrol in maths and science courses that may never before have entered their realm of thought.
So donors please don’t only focus on the end result. Help us to get our youth to the stage where they are ready to face greater challenges head on rather than just getting from one day to the next.
Julie Staub is the funding coordinator at Outwardbound