Letter to my beloved country, South Africa

Dear South Africa, my beloved country,

     I was born and raised within your borders. I hope to return one day and grow old within your borders. As of 2014 I have lived abroad for 16 years. Since moving overseas, I have obtained degrees in Texas, early childhood through 12th grade teaching and school leadership experience, and five years of work experience in a U.S. university; promoting educational opportunities to students in Asia. This university role took me across the Pacific a half dozen times to talk with high school and college students about studying in the U.S.

     My wife and I, with our two children, are currently on our annual home visit in the Eastern Cape. Over the past few weeks I have had multiple conversations with fellow South African citizens about tertiary education. I have spoken to educators, parents, business owners, and today, to a student advisor at a local tertiary education institution. 

     During my meeting with the student advisor, she told me, with conviction, that education is not for everyone. Yes, this belief was explicitly expressed by a person whose primary job is to encourage people to study beyond high school. She went on further, bragging that President Jacob Zuma only has a 3rd grade education. Whether true or not, I couldn't believe that someone in tertiary education would blatantly say that not everyone was made to get an education. This struck a definite chord.

     In the past 16 years I have taught in high-end private international schools, where annual tuition costs range from $20,000 USD to $40,000 USD a year. I have also taught and led in schools where 90% of students were officially labelled by the government as low-income, and qualified for services such as a free or reduced price school lunch everyday. We also provided a hot breakfast to these low-income children. The food they ate at our school was sometimes the best nutrition they received all week. 

     Now, this may be difficult to believe, but 100% of these low-income children, through a lot of hard work and dedication, were accepted into numerous tertiary institutions across America. 100%! Whether two year community colleges that confer associate degrees, or four-year public or private universities; every single low-income student went to college.

     The predominant and strengthening philosophy in America (and Asia) is that every child should attend college. The emphasis is that every child, even the poor who do not have resources for college, should attend some schooling beyond high school, whether vocational training or traditional university education. 100% of children; poor, and rich, white, and black should receive some form of tertiary education.

     I, along with countless other professionals around the world, believe that:
  • All children can learn and succeed.
  • All children have the ability and can develop the stamina to study past grade 12.
  • All children can be accepted into one or more tertiary institution.
  • A high school diploma is no longer enough in a global economy.
  • A resume needs to contain educational achievements to survive (and thrive) in our world.
  • Quality work experience is essential. However, work experience at the expense of education is detrimental to the health and prosperity of a nation.
     My beloved South Africa, I do not claim to have all the answers on how to change the educational expectations of a nation. I do however have an interest in working with you on change, in whatever capacity I can muster. Every positive action, no matter how small, makes a difference.

     Proudly South African,

     Wayne Russell
     International Educator
     Shanghai, China
     Tweeting @rssll80

Image source: baltimoresun.com