Saturday, January 16, 2021

“Academic excellence, a key to economic diversification”

I am greatly honoured that you should have invited me today.
It is indeed a great pleasure to be here, and to have the chance to come and talk to you on the occasion of your Prize Giving Ceremony. It also brings back to my mind a great many incidents as a student.

First of all, let me begin by thanking teachers for their dedication and for taking up the role of parenting, especially in an era where a significant number of parents are not interested in managing their children’s education. I shall return later to this issue. My own mother was a teacher and so, I am aware of the sacrifices teachers make, sometimes at their own expense, to help shape in a positive way, our young people. As the demand for education increases, teachers now have to contend with congested classes in addition to spending afternoons involved in compulsory extramural activities and other tasks. Teaching, no doubt, is a job that has implications far into the future. As Gerald Grow in a poem titled “What is a teacher?” says: “To the fallow mind, (a teacher) is a planter of seeds” and “To the wanderer, a teacher is the knowing guide”. Tlokweng CJSS teachers have lived up to Grow’s words as shown by the school’s impressive final year results since 1991. I am, therefore, pleased to note that between the years 1991 and 2007, your pass rate has averaged an impressive 85.6%. So, to the teachers, I say, “Thank you and keep up the good work.”

I will be devoting my address to speaking about “dedication”, which is relevant to today’s theme being “Academic Excellence: A Key To Economic Diversification”. “Dedication” simply means immersing yourself with sincerity into whatever you do. Indeed, you could also say that it refers to the training that one gives one’s self to accomplish a certain task or to adopt a particular pattern of behaviour, even though one would really rather be doing something else. For example, denying oneself an extravagant pleasure such as going to a nightclub in order to accomplish a more demanding and beneficial deed such as studying. Dedication is, therefore, to some extent a substitute for motivation because one uses reason to determine a best course of action that opposes one’s desires.

One of the most tragic instances, therefore, is seeing students who are not dedicated to their studies. Students often make the mistake of thinking that their parents will look after them forever, and those from wealthy families assume that the family wealth will always be there or is theirs so there is no need to work hard in school. The truth of the matter is that one day you will be on your own and it is then that a good education will come in handy.

And then there is the troublesome lot. The boys and girls whose primary reason for coming to school appears to be to cause trouble, entertain their classmates, and generally cause mayhem to the extent that even the male teachers are terrified of them. I think we must also help such students to create a better future for themselves and their families. These students must change or they will live to regret it when they see former class mates who took their education seriously, some of them no more or even less intelligent than they are, very successful.
Life is, indeed, how you make it and you do that by being dedicated to making something positive out of yourself.

There is also the problem of use of alcohol and hard drugs by some students, which contributes to disruptive behaviour. To combat this problem I think there should be a framework for random drug testing in schools and that teachers must have the power to search suspect students for drugs or pints of alcohol. The police and security guards in schools should be requested by principals to search students randomly for drugs or alcohol without a warrant. Some of you will say that such students have rights. I agree. But rights have boundaries and such students do not have the right to destroy their future or to disrupt those who want to learn. I repeat therefore: test and search students for drugs and alcohol. I must commend you, however, as your school rules and regulations make it clear that students are not allowed to partake in intoxicating substances such as alcohol and drugs. The challenge, of course, lies in enforcing these rules and regulations especially in a school such as yours whose capacity is 600 students. But, we must do our best to ensure that students are on their best behaviour at all times.

Of course, for children to be dedicated to their school work, they must have equally dedicated teachers. It is the responsibility of teachers to instill in students the love for learning and to do that teachers must take everything they do seriously. They must, for instance, prepare for lessons well and their general conduct must be beyond reproach. Teachers who encourage students to drink alcohol and also have romantic liaisons with their students are certainly not the kind I am talking about. I note, therefore, that while your rules and regulations call upon students “to show respect to teachers and other elders within the community”, there is no similar provision calling upon teachers not to ask students for certain privileges, if one may put it mildly, as such conduct is unacceptable.

On the issue of parents, let me record my concern at some parents’ lack of interest in their children’s school work. These are parents who criticize teachers without themselves caring to see to it that their children apply themselves in school. Unfortunately, such parents appear to be in the majority. If we are to make any progress towards creating an educated nation, the education system itself needs to evaluate how it handles students. I would, therefore, also say that for the really disruptive students, they must be surrendered into the care of their parents or guardians for a set time. In such cases, the school would have to provide such a student with learning material as if he or she were in class but it would be the responsibility of the parent or guardian to ensure that their child does his or her work. One of the conditions for lifting the suspension of an unruly student would be proof, in the form of written material, that they indeed studied with the guidance of their parents while at home. Parents or guardians of unruly children need to understand the difficulties teachers face in trying to do their duties. The current practice where suspensions are not accompanied by further sanctions is not enough. My message is simple: surrender unruly students into the care of their parents or guardians and let them be the teachers for a while so that they start appreciating how difficult and stressful it is for schools to deal with their troublesome children. Such a practice would also stop parents from attacking teachers for apparently not doing enough to ensure that their children pass.

So, to the troublesome students, it is not late to change. Those of you who have never seen the importance of being dedicated to their school work must start doing so now. Those of you who have not been taking the advice of their teachers, must also start doing so now. This nation needs people who are dedicated and that characteristic works best when it is cultivated at a young age. To excel academically, you must be dedicated to your studies. It is only then that having acquired the right skills you will be able to help the rest of the nation to diversify our economy.

THANK YOU and good luck in your studies as well as in the Form 3 final examinations which are due in the coming few weeks.

*This is part of a speech given by Sipho Showa (BBS Head of Corporate Affairs and Board Secretary) at the ceremony to mark the prize giving ceremony of Tlokweng CJSS.

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