This week hundreds of thousands of our children will return to school and many more will be more than slightly nervous as they start their first day of school. Social media will be flooded with pictures of proud parents holding their kid’s hands, there will naturally be some tears and South African children, from different backgrounds will start a journey of a lifetime.
The right to education comes with many responsibilities. There are teachers’ responsibility for inspiring students and pushing them to learn. parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and you get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV. Government’s responsibility for setting high standards, and supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working, where students aren’t getting the opportunities that they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, the best schools in the world — and none of it will make a difference, none of it will matter unless all of our children fulfill their responsibilities, unless our kids show up to those schools, unless they pay attention to those teachers, unless they listen to their parents and grandparents and other adults and put in the hard work it takes to succeed. So, I write my column today to all the young ones going back to school.
I want to start with the responsibility you should have to you. Every single one of you has something that you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. The future of South Africa depends on you. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home — none of that is an excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude in school. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. There is no excuse for not trying.
The truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject that you study. You won’t click with every teacher that you have. That’s okay. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. So, if you get into trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to act right. If you get a bad mark, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying. No one’s born being good at all things. You become good at things through hard work. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
I expect great things from each of you. So, don’t let us down. Don’t let your family down or your country down. Most of all, don’t let yourself down. Make us all proud.
Waseem Carrim is the Chief Executive of the National Youth Development Agency.