I have listened to Doctor Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream speech' many times. Like many I have a favourite part; "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character."
My three year old son will soon be attending school and I have come to the realisation that over the next 20 years or so, he will spend more time at school with teachers and other kids than he will with me. Naturally, I am concerned about what he will learn from school besides reading and writing.
Will the school reinforce the values of 'Ubuntu' that we teach him at home? How is the school going to mould his character?
I believe that moulding my son's character is primarily my responsibility. However one cannot deny the fact that the environment within which he grows up in and outside the home also plays a significant role in who he will ultimately become.
Today schools are rife with bullying, cheating, violence, gangs and drug use. According to a study conducted by Peter Jordan, Principal Officer - Fed health, the average age of drug dependency in South Africa is now 12 years old and dropping! In 2012 a study by the Anti-Drug Alliance South Africa showed that 34 percent of all teenagers interviewed had used drugs in the preceding six months.
As Africans we believe that it takes a village to raise a child. While the concept of village has evolved over the years, the fundamental notion of this proverb remains true today.
In her book 'It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us (1996)', Hillary Rodham Clinton states that children are raised not just by their parents, but by society around them. Schools are an integral part of today's society. Nelson Mandela once said "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world".
The question then becomes, how can education and character development come together? Can schools work with parents in developing character in our children? In the same way they work with us in developing their intellect. Can schools play a role in developing ubuntu?
The answer is absolutely! They can and they should. I believe schools should consciously play an active role in moulding, reinforcing and celebrating good character in their students. Doctor Martin Luther once said "Intelligence plus character that is the goal of true education".
Without teaching values and character our schools will continue to produce menaces to society. Recent statistics on drugs, violence and gangs within our schools are proof of this.
In light of the above my suggestion is that we introduce character education and development in our education system. I propose that we celebrate good character in our kids as much as we celebrate their athletic or academic achievements. I suggest that we put character at the forefront of what we teach our children in our schools in the same way that it is at the forefront of what we teach them at home.
Focusing on the Key Issues
Africa as a continent needs to put in a concerted effort into raising our children to be better citizens, to be men and women of character and integrity. Look closely at the key issues we face - from corruption, governance, rule of law, crime, service delivery problems all the way to the extremes of civil war - and you will notice that they are more about right and wrong than they are about anything else.
Most of our issues are fundamentally character issues. It is impossible to solve any of these problems without addressing the root cause - which is character. Tata Madiba said "a good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination."
Our cultural differences do not matter - we cannot argue against teaching values such at integrity, respect, responsibility, commitment, compassion, teamwork, leadership, perseverance and self-control. These are universal values that we all hold dear and wish to impart on our children. Even in the school environment.
It is time the village, particularly the school, plays its role in raising our children. The failure of our kids is as much an indictment on the parents as it is on us as communities.