Education and Twitter Activism

South African pupils I have been teaching

Hi there.

I recently started to have a lot of fun on twitter. Living in South Africa for 7 years I have been doing my best trying to understand this diverse nation’s many layers from within. Europe, and I guess the rest of the world, has their own pre-conceived ideas about South Africa and I still find it difficult to explain South Africa’s reality to my folks overseas. I might dedicate another post to the warped Africa “romanticism” by the western world that South Africans themselves aren’t even aware of. I mean, at school in Germany lots of kids had Nelson Mandela and Anti-Apartheid stickers and badges all over their bags, and multi-cultural festivals display peaceful dancers in leopard skins singing ancient songs. The usual consent is: Just leave Africans alone, white people are bad and exploiting the continent. Africans are best left to live and hunt like 1000 years ago. Those general European ideas, looking so tolerant at first, are so racist on so many levels without even being aware of that. But that’s really not what I want to write about. To give a frame of reference though: In South Africa when I mention the young generations lack of exposure to quality education, certain people’s arms go up defensively assuming I talk about the black kid from the town ship. Guys, I live in a predominately white Afrikaans neighbourhood and most kids I meet here have much less access to education and exposure to the wider world than their European counterparts. When I write about South African kids, I mean them all. See picture of my students.

I have been trying to find my feet and a purpose living and working in South Africa, dealing with a different kind of life and death challenge on a daily base. As a counselor I am working with people from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds. I trauma counsel, advise, help in life orientation and motivate.

In my “former life” I worked as a speech and family therapist, College lecturer, researcher. I have a BA in media science and a MA in Educational Science and Psychology. So naturally, I am passionate about education.

What set me aback big time coming to South Africa was the bad quality of the public education system, starting with horrible facilities (no psychologist consulted in the make up of noisy, dark classrooms with lots of desks behind each other, huge class sizes (I was used to 14 to 20 kids in a class, here over 30 is common), short periods (how can any child settle into a subject in 30 minutes) and worst of all: it is not for free. Parents have to pay high school fees plus books and stationary plus school uniforms.

In Germany all education is free. There are no school uniforms. If you can not afford the books, apply and you get them for free.

aStuttgart 060
Typical display at a German bakery. You study (incl. apprenticeship) 5 years to be a baker Master. Only with that title can you open your own accredited shop. That ensures high quality! Still the Master baker does not sit in an office like South African bosses do. He gets up at 3 every morning, kneads the dough, makes the pastries. And he loves it. He does not dream of employing an unskilled person to do it for cheap. He will maybe have an apprentice and pass on his secrets, with pride. Germany has thought this is a great system for 600 years and it has ensured wealth and happyness for all. South Africa please wake up and learn work ethics.

The whole German education system is free and based on performance. If your marks are right by the time you reach 5th grade, you qualify for the better type school. No matter what background. Compulsory pediatrician visits throughout your childhood scan if your parents are properly looking after you. If not, the government offers free sessions with a speech therapist, movement therapist or other, to make sure kids get a shot at life no matter where they are from. The pressure to perform is high, kids having sex and catching STDs like in Africa is totally uncommon. They know at a young age, if they do not study, they wont be going to University. It is NOT mom and dad’s money that gets you in. Universities are NOT places of party, they are places to prepare for life. Germany does not favour cheap unskilled labour. Any baker or butcher has to properly study and make his Master’s before being allowed to provide food to the public. High qualification requirement ensure high quality products that retrieve high market prices. That guarantees an overall wealth for the nation.

I repeat, University is free. If you can not afford your housing and food, the government will even provide a student loan of which you pay back 50% later in life when you have an income.

I regret that so far both the South African broader public and Government haven’t realized the essential call for quality education in order to advance South Africa into a nation that has a high general life standard for the average citizen.

South Africa has a wealth of yet unused agricultural lands but lacks the expertise to transform raw materials into high-end goods. Why import Lindt chocolate? Too impatient to build proper factories where we carefully conche best quality cacao ourselves? Woolworth is definitely on the right track there, with their speedy improvement in the food department over the last couple of years. And the costumers love them for it. All our industries should learn from that. It takes skilled scientists to produce quality products. South Africans have a romantic picture of an Entrepreneur in his little shop … this is so yesterday.

I am dreaming of a South Africa that can proudly compete with the rest of the world in the arena of high tech products, not just in tourism!!!

South Africa has a wealth of yet untapped precious minerals and other natural resources. We would not need to import as much finished products as we do, if we would focus on training young people to be experts. Japan has no natural resources to draw on but the minds of its people. They didn’t waste their time with pointing who is all racists. They looked at the market, educated their people and produce world-wide respected high-end goods.

Made in Germany is a guarantee for high quality that lasts, isn’t it. That mentality starts in Kindergarten and is instilled throughout school and university. My 62 year old dad is an inventor, entrepreneur, pastor and engineer. He still, at his age, gets up at 4 in the winter time, braves the frost and ice to hands on oversea high way building sites, if necessary climbing into sewers to fix power lines. I do not know a south african engineer who does that. Instead, they will pay 20 or more cheap labourers equipped not with high-tech tools but, as I witnessed, with old Ricoffee cans, to climb into the mess and try to scoop out water. Usually one climbs in, 15 watch, two wave a red flags at cars. The engineer waits at his office for the report.

In the end, we still have power outages at every single rainstorm, the 20 labourers earn a pittance and stay unskilled for the rest of their life and the engineer vents his frustration at his family…

Now who is to blame for this system. The government? Racism? The TV for displaying success as not having to work?

South Africa can within the next 10 years (one circle of school attendance) start implementing a paradigm shift towards quality and prosperity. Our schooling system would be the vehicle on which to educate that revolution.

Via the media of twitter, of all things, I found myself suddenly connecting to mushrooming initiatives that are discussion how we can connect for #AdvancingSA, #buildSA, achieve Quality Education for SA #QE4SA

Have I been blind before or just too new to the scene to find out about those awesome people? Or is this just the right time, where South Africa is ready to stop pointing fingers at old racism and join hands across skin tones to really pursue progress?

So last Tuesday it was my first time ever, whoop whoop, to join a tweetchat on how to help South African entrepreneurs. The topic was how varsities can support entrepreneurs or if a true entrepreneur does not need university.

A heated discussion quickly polarised between those who believe in the self-made, self-sufficient man for whom varsity would be a waste of time, and those who believed you can teach skills and expertise.

What I found difficult during the discussion was that twitter with its legendary limit of 144 characters does not allow for any in-depth explanation. The participants surely did not share the same frame of reference.

First: Define Entrepreneur. what makes him different from a business man.

Define what you mean when talking of varsity, are you plainly referring to business studies.


Of course there are a couple of coaches trying to use the platform to get business. Maybe their intention is not to advance the country but rather catch some business? And there are those who immediately “suck up” to the coaches, rather looking for approval than to engage in meaningful discussion. Not all coachesw are like that, there are for sure some real necessary ones who have the greater good of the nation in mind. But some guys, goodness, can you not see your statements logical consequences materialize in ten years time? You think varsities are unnecessary because you want to be the only star at the horizon? The kind of coaches we need are those who come in, assess, come alongside the organisation and work together in makign things better. They provide access to information hubs, and do not bash the efforts of others. In my experience the ones who scream loudest against other organisations are the ones who accomplish the least.

All in all it was a very fun experience, leaving me fruitfully frustrated:

If I understand it right, in South Africa mainly rich kids get to attend university. That leaves the children from poor backgrounds already unmotivated during school years “why try harder, I wont make doctor anyway”.

The rich kids then waste their parents money on partying to an extend that shocks me. In Germany where education is free but depending solely on your personal performance, we do not have the luxury to spend time getting drunk and having sex excesses. We actually study hard to stay in the loop. Our professors are highly engaged in the practical world. Seminars of 20 to 40 students allow for personal development. I do not think at 17 or 18 you are ready to be an entrepreneur. You need to be slowly finding your feet in the wider market. University provides would be entrepreneurs with the skills to create a high end product, read the marked, do their maths.

The tweet chat entrepreneurs were convinced they do not need all that. Again: frame of reference. Talk to me about your product and I tell you how varsity would improve your business in the long-term.

The tweeps were highly into coaching. I do acknowledge the need of coaching in certain life and buisness situations. People in the tweetchat demanded: Every business man has to mentor at least one newbie. Good and admirable, but when I had the honest question WHY would a business man spend his limited, valuable time on mentoring a young person other than the proverbial reward in heaven (which I said with a smile, meaning it ironic) I only got an outcry of one about me preaching the gospel? I was tempted to reply “Hold your horses, pumpkin, don’t you know the first thing about sarcasm, all I am trying is to ask in 144 characters about what would be in it for the mentor”, because, obviously, there are no free mentors out there in South Africa.

Every South African child needs to have a realistic shot at bettering themselves through free tertiary education depending only on your performance, not race, not financial background or connections.

Wait, there are, actually. Called pastors? Back to gospel, pumpkin 🙂

Seriously. I conclude that a lot of people are still too much in it for them selves rather than honestly wanting to help South Africa arrive at a new mindset of well deserved prosperity.

My conviction is that without free, high quality education including free, performance based tertiary education there is no way to solve any current issue South Africa faces.

I am calling on churches as independent “not-in-it-for-monetary-gain” institutions to drive this home to politicians and business people.

We do not use our resources to the max  because our labour basis is unskilled.

Cheap labour is a curse, not a blessing. 1 educated, hard-working person gets more done without the amount of collateral damage than 14 cheap hired hands.

No child grows up dreaming of becoming the guy who waves the red flag at a building site. All children should grow up having the same, performance based change of becoming a doctor or astronaut, their dreams fuelling their study ethic.

The government must be pressured to put the ta payers money back into education. From the smallest village to the big cities, literacy and general knowledge must be driven to saturation.

Tertiary education must include mandatory periods of practical labour. In Germany, every student has to work at base level in his field of study for at least 3 months during BA level and up to 2 years during MA levels.

There MUST come in quality standards in all fields. Backyard creches in the dirt should be illegal. The government must provide free access to government financed preschools for every child. Preschool teachers must be formally trained and accredited and paid by the government as it standard in Europe. Why does the developed world provide so much more for its citizens than the South African government who put on its flags to erase disadvantages and provide equal opportunities?

Entrepreneurs need to sponsor schools and individuals. In the USA this is normal, the Rockefeller foundation sets up schools and hospitals and the local business at least sponsors a after-care facility. In South Africa I hardly ever see a bench in a park put up by anyone.

Poor public engagement of the rich and beautiful! The high and mighty don’t currently care to put up some play things in a public park for kids, I wonder how we can change that attitude and make them proud doing so?

“This public fountain, benches and flower beds where proudly sponsored by Zuma’s wife no.3, dedicated with love to the citizens of Malaphalla” – wouldnt that be nice? That’s standard in the wealthy nations.

South Africa, you lack expertise, work ethics and a view beyond the rim of your own tea-cup.

I am definitely going to put myself out there to engage in productive dialogue with those who can change things. Thanks for tuning in,


4 thoughts on “Education and Twitter Activism”

  1. Thanks for the added perspective on education and work in SA. I agree about the work ethic issue. Struggling with the self-limiting “good enough” SA philosophy — and trying to steer my long-distance son Mtuseni away from it — is an ongoing challenge. How does a country shift its cultural mindset?

    And I too am shocked at the minimal involvement of the business community in these issues — at least compared to US standards. How does the main library in wealthy Sandton… steps from gleaming corporate headquarters… not have computers for public use? How does the city not offer free WiFi? Or for that matter, his college?! How does the public school that Mtuseni’s young siblings attend not have computers? Or a library? Or heat?! Does the business community not realize how it would benefit from investing in education?

    In my visit to SA, I was struck by the vibrancy and energy of the young people. And, like my boy, many are eager for a better life. Part of the responsibility is theirs — and requires cranking up the work ethic. But personal actions only carry a person so far without access to educational resources both in school and beyond.

  2. Daring to make a difference is not that difficult once you are already used to dealing with scepticism and opposition. One needs to just learn how to carefully select the right projects and ventures, those that promise a successful return and are not a plain waste of heart and energy.

I would really love some feedback from you!

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