When I went to study at a media college in 2010, I had a lot of ground to cover to level the playing field with my peers who’d matriculated from prestigious, and thus, better schools. I came short in many ways and at the same time, I loved eloquent communication. This prompted me to set myself a goal.
I have concerns. I am worried by the level of communication abilities young people, especially in townships, possess. Reading is difficult; writing well a single paragraph even more daunting a task. Our public high schools are found wanting.
Amidst all this chaos, we can point fingers and hurl insults at Angie Motshekga — or whoever assumes the chief seat in the ministry of basic education — or we can pull together our minds, collaborate as youth who’ve seen and experienced what’s possible in the world and return to add value in our communities. I consider the latter a win-win situation. We help out and elevate others; we broaden our horizons, improve and sharpen ourselves all at the same time.
Take Orange Farm for instance, a place I call home, situated approximately 45 kilometres south of Johannesburg. It gets me anxious because it’s far-flung from opportunities to learn (things you can’t get at high school). From places where one gets exposed to other people; people who think differently than one might. Orange Farm will easily have you believe what’s found within it is all there is to the world — it frustrates the ability to imagine.
I am glad the place isn’t as rough, safety wise, as it once famously was (but, you know these things, the violence can always flare up again some time). Today though, there are other bigger challenges and there’s no way out. Well, there’s always a way out.
Is the youth willing to find that way out? I suppose that’s arguable.
The standard of education in public institutions isn’t of top-notch quality. That has dire consequences for the many young people who undergo the public system. I am one of them. So, this means that I struggled to hit the college ground running. For one, I had a problem where I could write okay and spell — and it’s because I loved and practiced writing — but couldn’t express myself verbally. I struggled to get myself involved in discussions during lectures and in many a social conversation with kids from Crawford College or St. Johns high schools or other
At that time, my confidence and self-esteem plummeted!
I studied English at an Orange Farm high school where the teachers often taught the subject using their native languages. Please, for a mere second, imagine studying Shakespeare’s novel Romeo and Juliet or Maru by Bessie Head in Sesotho or IsiZulu. Doable? Of course, but it cripples the students’ potential to be great communicators. My heart sinks when I learn of people who have matriculated, got their certificates, laminated them, but still can’t write well or read.
As I’ve noted, we can always blame the system for shoddy education, but we can’t really be good at something unless we put in a fair share of work towards our development, either. We need to stretch ourselves and travel mentally, by reading great literature — which is never in short supply. Be that as it may, illiteracy and poor communication skills are unacceptably high among young people, and this concerns me.
At the end of it all, the youth today face grotesque challenges, one of which is the high unemployment rate. I am aware eloquent communication isn’t a panacea for all the odds stacked up, squeezing the life out of our generation. That said, it’s a step worth taking — improving your skills is necessary for your growth. It’s not acceptable when you have all the requisite traits to add value anywhere, but are often undermined by a lack of good writing and speaking abilities, immaterial of whatever circumstances you grew up in or high school you matriculated from.
I remember declaring the goal I’d set myself to my friend, Thembinkosi Sekgaphane. It was an attempt to transform myself into a man of learning and refinement. I said to him:
“Ntwana, I want to improve myself up to a level where I can hold a conversation with a guy from Crawford College and in the midst of it, you can’t pick up that I graduated from a high school in Orange Farm”.