The road to acquiring an education, from the first 12 grades in school to a tertiary qualification, is not an easy one for many learners throughout South Africa. Many obstacles threaten their way to success, and in rural areas the lack of electricity forces many learners to study using candles in the evenings. Hardships such as crossing rivers and man-made bridges to get to school are, all too often, also the norm. Yet parents, especially mothers, around South Africa are striving to support their children’s education.
Mothers in these areas have taken it upon themselves to ensure that their kids get the education they themselves never had the privilege of receiving. These mothers walk their kids to and from school to ensure their safety and offer emotional support to them during the more difficult times. All this to ensure that the challenges are overcome and that their children can concentrate fully and perform well in school.
Poverty in South Africa is a reality for millions; the high prevalence of deadly diseases, especially HIV/AIDS, only serves to increase this. As an example, parents from one household may pass away within a few months of each other, leaving their children orphaned. The result is a child-headed household in which the responsibilities for looking after the rest of the children lies with the eldest sibling, interfering greatly with their schooling and studies. In South Africa, the extent of this problem should not be taken lightly. The Department of Social Development estimated that in 2012 there were 240,000 child-headed households in the country.
Fortunately, our communities’ women consider not only their own offspring as their children, but extend their motherly love and support to their neighbours, especially where the need is greatest. This allows the eldest child to concentrate on their schooling and eases some of the burdens that come with managing a household. Many girls have succeeded in continuing their studies through such hardships and are today admirable, qualified women in different sectors. These women have taken on roles of mentoring young girls and are positive role models of which our country so desperately needs more.
In my opinion, the most accurate predictor of a learner’s achievement in school is not income or social status but the extent to which that learner’s family, in particular his or her mother, is able to create a home environment which encourages learning. In cases where the mother is not present, the responsibility falls to other support structures such as the extended family or community to be involved in that learner’s school activities; attend parent’s meetings and oversee high-school applications.
Education is the key to unlocking the golden door to freedom. This is a freedom which many of the current generation South African parents and, in particular mothers, never had themselves: freedom of opportunity. It provides both more and greater employment pathways and can lead to an improved quality of life.
When the goal is achieved, and the learner graduates, it is not just the effort of the learner that is recognised, it is a collective effort. Indeed, it takes a village to raise a child! Contributing influences here often include faith groups, parents, siblings, teachers, and the community at large. All this, for education. As Nelson Mandela famously said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."