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Louise van Rhyn: “I have a dream for SA in 2017…”

By Louise van Rhyn*

I love this country. When our political leaders let us down, citizens step up and lead. They don’t whine and complain about things not being the way they want it. They step up and do something about it.

This is why I made the decision to return to South Africa – a country that is Alive with Possibility, where every citizen can make a massive contribution to a different and better future for all of us. We are creating history and I am thrilled and feel privileged to be part of history in the making.

Because we envisage a future where all children in South Africa have access to quality education that will enable them to flourish and live their best lives, my dream for 2017 is about what we need to do this year to realise this vision.

In my dream more South African citizens take action and realise that the future is in OUR hands. Citizens realise that we cannot abdicate responsibility for our future to elected officials and that it is our responsibility to help co-create the future we want for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. My dream for 2017 conveys a sense of urgency about this. We can’t let another generation of young people down. The time to act is NOW!

My dream is that we as adults will take collective responsibility for a better future for all OUR children. That we won’t continue to focus only on creating a better future for our own biological children but that we will see ALL the children in South Africa as OUR children and that we will recognise that our future is inextricably linked to the future of the 12 million children currently in SA’s public school system.

I have a dream that we prioritise the well-being of our children – our future – and that we make all our decisions with them in mind. I dream that we all realise that it is not good enough to be only interested in matric results and that the ability to pass matric starts in early childhood.

This means that Grade 3 literacy becomes a critical key performance indicator (KPI) for the entire country, because children who can’t read for meaning (in home language and English) by the end of Grade 3 will forever struggle to keep up with the curriculum.

I dream of a South Africa where each of us takes personal responsibility to help at our local school, a dream I know is shared by Minister Angie Motshekga. Seeing citizens take action in their local schools will help change the negative trend that we have seen where 20,000 of our 25,000 public schools are classified as “under-performing” and will turn schools into places where our children can develop safely and where they can discover what they are good at.

I dream of a schooling system where school principals are equipped with the knowledge and skills to lead a complex social system and are supported in this difficult and important task. Education officials agree about the importance of leadership in schools and do what they can to provide professional support and guidance to principals so that they are set up to succeed.

In my dream teachers are well-trained, care deeply and are energised and enabled to teach. Teachers are treated with respect, they carry themselves with dignity and citizens rally around them to support and encourage them as they build our nation.

We know from studies done at Harvard that the best way to ensure the wellbeing of our children is to ensure that the adults working with children are equipped and supported for their very important task. We therefore prioritise the teachers and ensure their wellbeing because we know that the children will benefit.

My dream is to see 25,000 small groups of people at 25,000 schools around the country, supporting the Principal and teachers at that school. We are already seeing this in the 5,000 well-resourced schools in South Africa. In my dream all schools are actively supported by members of the local community. Every school has HR, IT and Finance professionals working with the Principal and School Management team on a volunteer basis.

I envisage parents and grandparents at our schools, supporting teachers, creating opportunities for children to read and fall in love with mathematics. The elders in our communities have so much to offer our children – elders bring shoulders to cry on, laps to sit on, ears to hear when children read, hands to clap when children perform. They bring love and appreciation into our schools. In my dream elders are recognised as a key resource to schools and they love the opportunity to help equip our youngsters with the skills they need to become productive citizens.

I dream of a South African education system where children are equipped with the knowledge and skills to enable them to live their best lives. In my dream all our children know that the adults in their community have high expectations of them and that they care deeply about their education. Education is prioritised in all communities.

Parents know that they have a huge responsibility with regard to their children’s education. They recognise their own role as primary educators and ensure that their children are ready for school by age 5 (i.e. they know their shapes, colours, sizes). Parents read to their children and they build puzzles and play with Lego from a young age. When their children start school, they show their children that they are interested and care. They regularly read with their children. They work in partnership with teachers and help with homework. Parents know that children spend only 20% of their waking hours at school and that the other 80% matters greatly. They actively search for opportunities to expose their children to music, art and theatre. Parents sign up to be members of a Community of Committed Parents (CCP) at their local school.

Parents have high expectations of their children and do whatever they can to ensure their children do well at school. Where parents don’t have time, they work with other parents in their area to ensure that all children are supervised in the afternoons and evenings. Where necessary, employers make it possible for their staff members to be available to support a group of children one afternoon every week (as part of their CSI contribution).

In my dream, adults know that the best school for their child is the local school within walking distance. Communities take ownership of their local school because they want only the best for their children. When children are born, young parents get involved in the school closest to their home so that they don’t feel the need to send their children to schools far away from home. Children get more sleep because they don’t have to get up at five to get on a taxi or a bus, they are able to participate in after-school activities because they live within walking distance of a school.

In my dream, every child in South Africa has access to opportunities to participate in sport. Adults make a commitment to show up at our schools to coach our children and our children’s eyes are shining on sports fields around the country.

I dream of a South Africa where business leaders realise that education is too important to leave to the educators and that every one of us has a role to play with regard to encouraging, supporting, inspiring principals, teachers and learners.  I dream that education is on the priority list of the Presidential CEO Initiative and that every commercial organisation in South Africa will make a commitment to support a few schools as part of their journey to excellence.

South Africa’s corporate sector is well-respected the world over and has been described as a national asset. If we bring some of this expertise and experience to bear on the education sector, we will see, in our lifetimes, a South Africa that is alive with possibility!

In my dream, citizens step up to help co-create the future they are committed to. Journalists write about these endeavours and others are inspired to also get involved – it becomes a movement of positive change for OUR future.

  • Louise van Rhyn returned from a career as a business consultant in Europe and the USA to become a social entrepreneur in South Africa. With a Doctorate in complex social change, she believes the worlds’ huge intractable problems can be solved through cross-sector collaboration and a solid understanding of complex social change. Louise is the founder of Partners for Possibility: an innovative leadership development process in South Africa that has, to date, assisted in 498 under-resourced schools across South Africa.
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