Earlier this year, I had the awesome opportunity to visit the country of Botswana.  It was a big deal for me because I have spent the last 14 years as a missionary in South Africa, having never traveled to another African country.  To go “up in Africa,” as the South Africans call every other African country, was a journey into the heartland of the continent and a unique contrast to what I had become accustomed.

I visited the large town of Maun, which is called the gateway to the Okavango Delta.  Nestled in the Kalahari Desert, the landscape is flat, sandy, and dry.  Since I arrived at the end of the dry season, we were still awaiting the arrival of the waters that typically flood the delta region.  When I stepped into the airport, I immediately entered the 1940s, something reminiscent of Casablanca or the early Tarzan movies.  It was literally the oldest and smallest airport I had ever seen.   Yet, the true mark of the town of Maun that I will always remember is the uncountable number of donkeys that loiter along the roadsides.

I went as a guest of Love Botswana ministries, which is both a vibrant community church and a community-based organization in Maun.  The church and leaders there have made a strong connection with the local people and  have a huge influence in the community at large. The leaders are from Texas, but Botswana has been their home for over 30 years.

The ministry also oversees a school where I spent most of my time.  The Botswana students were very intriguing.  They welcomed me openly and I was able to observe several classes.  Before I knew it, I was teaching Bible and English classes, as well as leading small groups, which of course felt natural.  I  happily fielded not only questions about America, but also about the Bible and life issues from a Biblical perspective.  Of course, it made me long for the school we want to birth in South Africa, but I made a lot of connections with young people that I will always cherish.

I could go on and on about the many experiences I had from making friends in the deaf community to tasting cuisine from around the continent to ministering at the local prison (oh to hear those prisoners sing again!), but I can’t go any further without talking about Botswana’s wildlife.  In South Africa, I have been on many safaris and have had my fair share of run-ins with animals—including staring down a monkey trying to enter our house.  However, I was not prepared to share a highway with an elephant—correction, several elephants.  I know that you have to be alert as a driver, but I never thought that I would have a road rage challenge with a pair of zebra.  To be in a boat and have an elephant literally emerge from the water a few feet in front of me was a thrill!  However, sitting in an open vehicle with a large, male lion staring me down from five feet away was both a thrill and a horror.  Add to that the opportunity for brief visits to the neighboring countries of Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe culminating with a trip to the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls—bucket list checked!—then it would be hard to fathom how incredible of a time I had.

My time in Botswana was remarkable.  It is always a delight to enjoy a different culture and language and people.  Botswana is the northern neighbor of South Africa, and many similarities exist between them.  Yet, the richness of the culture, the allure of the wildlife, and the kindness of several of the people that I met, created a unique and valuable experience for me.  Overall, this was a life event that I will always treasure.

South Africa’s Quest for Mediocrity – Part 2

class dismissed

This is part 2 of Listie Anne Kamm’s commentary on education in South Africa.  Listie Anne Kamm is one of our first students in the Kurland Learning Center.  A graduate with honors from Stellenbosh University, she is deeply concerned with the political, education and social future of her country.  Like her fellow South Africans, she prays for a better healthier country for her children to grow up in.

The problem with education in South Africa does not begin in high school.  It begins well before a student enters his high school years.  This problem impacts not only high school students, but primary school students who cannot read, write or add. It then infests first year university students who do not have a clue as to how to write a paper. I will never forget my tenth grade year at Wittedrift High School, which is the best school in my area and happens to be a predominantly white school. I came from a township school, where I was one of the top students in the entire school. My first week at WHS was probably the worst in my entire school career. I went from being the top student at The Crags Primary to one that had to struggle to get and maintain good grades. I had no clue what the word “algebra” meant. I had never heard of a periodic table. I’d never felt dumber in my whole life. I was failed abysmally by my teachers and government. As if that was not enough, the department of education  dumbed the system down even more when the government implemented Outcomes-Based Education (OBE).  In my opinion, OBE is just a dumbed-down egalitarian scheme that stifles individual potential for excellence and achievement by holding the entire class to the level of learning attainable by every child. This sytem of education discourages competition and according to the Phyllis Schlafly report, fast learners are not allowed to progress, but are given busy work called “horizontal enrichment”or told to do “peer tutoring” to help the slower kids , who are recycled through the material until the pre-determined behaviour is exhibited. Basically, a student’s current performance is compared to their own prior performance rather than their performance relative to their peers. So, in a nutshell, it is impossible for a student to fail.

Matriculants today who don’t even achieve 50% in the Senior Certificate (matric) results are being told that they can proceed, and not only that, but that they are entitled to a higher education. What message are we sending our youth? That black and Coloured students are somehow less capable and therefore need these pathetic results to access higher education?

Who is responsible for this culture of mediocrity that we are steadily moving towards? We need to ask ourselves what role we are playing as broader society in ensuring that our education improves. As a society we need to model the behaviours that we want from our learners. That means we need to be models of excellence. We need to inspire our young people. We need to demystify qualitative disciplines such that they raise their aspirations. There are too many kids these days that when you ask them what they want to become, they say dancers, singers, rappers, etc. What happened to aspiring to become doctors, teachers, journalists, presidents? I know too many kids who go to school with no concept of what they can get out of it. These kids go to school because they have to. They go there because there they derive some meaning, whatever it may be, for their otherwise uninspired lives. Thus, we must take on the challenge of being role models. They may not be our kid, but they will become our nemesis should their options remain limited. Our leaders will continue failing dismally at it. Steadily, but surely we march towards mediocrity. We have a choice to make, to be mediocre or extraordinary. What we do with our young people will determine the course we take. We need to teach our youth that they need to try to achieve more than what is expected of them and that good enough is not good enough anymore. Just “okay” is not okay anymore.

Roxzane’s Story

RoxzaneThis year, we have asked out students to write their stories.  We are going to periodically post them for you to hear from them in their own voice. They want to be heard!  For some, we have changed their names to offer them some degree of anonymity.  Thus, we have noted these stories with an asterisk (*).   For others, they do not mind you knowing who they are and the struggles they have endured in becoming who God has ordained them to be.  You will hear from students in various phases of our program.   The grade levels are evident in their writing, but we did not want to take away from the authenticity of  them explaining themselves in their own words.  This is Roxzane’s story.

When I was in grade 1, I was very lazy, I did not want to do my work.  I thought that school was for playing and meeting friends; so, I let other kids do my work for me. When I was in grade 3, I decided to be better than the other children. I knew that I could do my own work and I really wanted to try.  I studied harder and to my surprise, I became better and better. I was so happy!  My mom and dad were also happy with my improvement and they were so proud of me.

When I was in grade 1 I felt like I didn’t want to go to school. I was at home a lot of times, but when I was in grade 2, my mind became bigger and better.  I was still wasn’t in school very much, but I did learned and listen even if I wasn’t in school.  I didn’t want to go to school, but I still wanted to learn.

If I wasn’t in school I would ask someone who was in school what they did. Then, I would do it too. When I showed up for school the next day, the teacher would ask me where I got the work. I would tell her I got it from my friend and she would ask me if I copied and I would say no. Then I would say she just told me what work to do. Then the teacher was very happy with me, and she gave me a gold star.  I loved getting gold stars! Then, the other children would be mad because they did not get a gold star and I would put the gold star at the front of my head. I would walk around the school and the children would ask where I got the gold star, and I would tell them about my work that I did in class. Then at the end of the school year, I will pass and go to the next grade and I would also do well and it was like that every day and year. I passed every grade.

Then, an amazing thing happened!  My teachers told me that I should try to be in the Learning Center.  The Learning Center is only for the kids who are the most clever.  I never thought that I could do it!  I took the test.  I was surprised when I passed.  Then, I was nervous.  I had to interview to get in.  I never did an interview before.  So, I went to talk to Michael and Ms. Terblanche.  It wasn’t so scary.  They asked me questions about myself and my work.  Then, I waited, and waited, and waited.  Finally, Michael called me from my class and I was in!  It felt good like wearing 100 gold stars on my forehead!

Now that I am in, the work is hard, but it is making me smarter.  One day, I will make my teachers, my parents, and everyone proud of me because I will reach my goals if I keep working hard.