Article Human Rights & Press Freedom

Educational utopia: the quest of an African child

It is said that each morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up knowing it has to outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed, while the fastest lion knows it has to outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve.

So it is that many African kids wake up and walk many kilometres every weekday morning, knowing that simple walk is leading them to a place that might help them in their quest to have a better life not only for themselves, but for their families as well.

Many of these children, some as young as seven years old, do this not because they want to be fitness fanatics but because they want a simple thing called education. In many countries the world over education is but a norm and a human right; the educating of children, just like breathing, is something that happens by default and is seen as a must for every child.

On 10 December 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a document that was later awarded the Guinness World Record for being the most translated and disseminated paper, having been translated into more than 300 languages and dialects from Abkhaz (the North West Caucasian native language) to isiZulu (the second most spoken Bantu language after Shona, according to Ethnologue). This holy grail of documents is called The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and it defines human rights as follows

“Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.”

The UDHR is made up of 30 Articles, each focusing on a particular human right as defined by the committee that met and came up with it. Article 26 states:

  1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least at elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

When one looks at the above clauses and then compares them to the current education status of the African child in general, one is left with no alternative but to admit that one of the basic human rights of these kids is being trampled on. In this age of information, it is very worrying to see that for many Africans education is more of a privilege than a must, this because many kids have to overcome a myriad of obstacles just to be in a classroom.

Reaching an oasis

At dawn every day, many drivers along the many roads that are the passageways of this big continent of ours, are met by kids in school uniforms hitchhiking for a lift that will get them closer to their schools on time. Their determination to get to school on time and acquire knowledge forces many to leave home without even eating a simple breakfast, thus affecting their performance in the classroom.

As they reach the gates of the school, which symbolises the entrance to the utopia of knowledge, these children have hopes and dreams that their thirst for education will be met by an oasis that lies in the heads of each and every teacher they meet in each classroom. Each day they enter the school yard with a simple mantra that in many other places would be seen as a clarion call; all they ask is that their teachers lead them from a state of ignorance to a state of knowledge.

The sad reality is that many kids across the mother continent daily encounter teachers who infringe their basic human rights, by not teaching them properly and caring only about the date they can cash their pay cheques. Many of the teachers who are not good and dedicated have done more damage to the education of the African child than the many teachers who teach from the heart and get joy in seeing the kids learning and progressing in their quest to imbibe from the fountain of knowledge.

I have high regard for all those teachers whose purpose in life is to wake up and be the person who helps kids to find their true potential; a person who not only shouts out information but teaches them that the best way to learn is by asking the right questions. I’m of the opinion that these teachers each day are upholding and protecting schoolchildren’s basic human rights, and each child deserves to be taught by these dedicated teachers.

Good teachers are the ones who, when they see kids enter their classes in the morning tired and hungry from the morning walk, will see a bunch of achievers who are eager to be moulded into the best human beings they can be. The same teachers will look at the kids holistically because they understand the bigger picture of why the kids are there and won’t focus solely on the high achievers of the class.

As a teacher friend of mine pointed out, it is the kids who are struggling in class, the ones who never grace the podiums, the ones who dread coming to school who need to be applauded because they put in a superhuman effort while others just glide through. It is those very same good teachers that help these kids to wake up each morning and want to be in class.

Thomas More in his book Utopia states: “For if you suffer your people to be ill-educated, and their manners to be corrupted from their infancy, and then punish them for those crimes to which their first education disposed them, what else is to be concluded from this, but that you first make them thieves and then punish them.”

More may not have had the people of Africa in mind when he wrote his book, but just like jigsaw puzzle pieces, the words are a perfect fit to the current situation in the mother continent. The educating or lack of educating of an African child will lead to the prosperity or downfall of the continent itself.

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