Address by President Nelson Mandela at the launch of the National Campaign for Learning and Teaching, Soweto

20 February 1997

Master of ceremonies;
Minister of Education;
Premier of Gauteng Province;
MEC's and members of legislatures;
Representatives of education organisations;
Parents, Teachers, and Students;
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our country is well endowed with natural resources. But our most valued treasure is our people, especially the youth. It is our human resources that enable us to reap the benefits of all our other assets.

Our fight against poverty, crime, and all the maladies of our society requires us to invest in the development of our human resources. The immense potential of our people must be turned into the specific skills and capacities needed for the reconstruction and development.

At the forefront of this effort is education and training. As government we are obliged to make it possible for everyone to develop their potential to the full; to provide opportunities for everyone to learn and nurture their talents. We have a duty to create a conducive environment; and to provide the necessary tools and the mechanisms to support people in their endeavours to better themselves.

In our first two-and-a-half years of democracy we have laid a solid foundation on which to build.

Out of the previously separate education departments has been created a single national department. Our once-segregated schools are now open to all. The Schools Act creates the framework for a single national schooling system providing quality education to all our children. The National Qualifications Framework will allow everyone to progress through the education and training system without obstacles.

There are programmes to ensure that millions of our young children are not hungry in school, and to renovate old schools and to build new ones.

Today's campaign launch is a challenge to the nation to combine all its forces in building on that foundation. The spirit of the New Patriotism that is shaping the new South Africa must make itself felt in the proud resurgence of a culture of learning and teaching.

The potential to be reclaimed is immense. The millions of our adults who never had the chance to learn to read and write; the hundreds of thousands of our youth displaced from education without any meaningful skills; the nation's workers who must ensure that our country embraces the world's new technologies - we can tap this power to build a better life by using every opportunity to ensure that our nation learns.

Our message to teachers on this occasion is this: Let your watchword be unqualified commitment to the interests of those whose education has been entrusted to you.

Amongst other things, this means meticulous punctuality; thorough preparation for every lesson; dedication to ensuring that every student learns something from each lesson. It involves keeping abreast of developments in your subject areas and working co-operatively with both colleagues and management to ensure that our schools truly educate the nation. In short it means upholding the highest standards so that dignity is fully restored to the teaching profession.

On your shoulders lies an enormous national responsibility, especially for teachers in historically black schools. All our students should be able to compete with their counterparts, not only in South Africa, but in the rest of the world. While affirmative action helps us redress the neglect of the past, it will not be a permanent feature of our society. If you fail our children you fail our country.

To students, this campaign is a call to make learning your main, if not your only, priority. For you too, punctuality, attendance and diligence in study must be the order of the day. Active participation in lessons and inquisitive probing to aid your own learning, respect for fellow students and for teachers; and a resolve never to use drugs or take dangerous weapons to school - all these and many more, make up the fabric of the culture of learning.

South Africans have made tremendous sacrifices, and many have given their lives, to ensure that you have access to the best education your country can afford. Redeem their sacrifice by acting to ensure that effective learning occurs in our schools. Youth and students were in the forefront of the struggle for freedom - by educating yourselves today you act as leaders of reconstruction and development.

To parents, we say today that taking an interest in your children's education is as important as their own efforts and those of teachers. You can help educate the nation by participating in the activities of schools and protecting them from vandals; by supporting them, by working with teachers and students; and by constant guidance which ensures that your children always attend school and do their school work.

I am mindful of the untenable conditions in some of our schools, and the shortage of classrooms and other facilities. The government has committed itself to improve these conditions within a short space of time.

There is therefore also a message today to government in all its spheres, to elected representatives and public servants. Though we can take pride in what has so far been achieved, it is only a start. We must make sure that we effectively and efficiently implement the policies that have been adopted; that the different spheres of government co-operate in the interests of citizens; and that where problems do occur we acknowledge them and deal with them.

In the same way that we waged war against apartheid education, government and communities should together combat those factors which militate against effective learning and teaching. Amongst other things, this means firm action against those students and teachers whose conduct undermines the efforts of the dedicated and committed majority.

We can no longer afford to sit by while some schools are turned into havens of drug abuse, violence or vandalising of valuable property. We can no longer sit and watch while any of our country's children are held back in the mire of ignorance and lack of skills which apartheid decreed should be their lot.

We need a South Africa that prides itself on being a Learning Nation. I am therefore honoured to now formally launch this National Campaign for Learning and Teaching.

May the campaign inspire all South Africans, in the spirit of the New Patriotism and in the spirit of Masakhane, to make our institutions of learning hives of activity that enrich and build our nation and its people.

Let us join hands, and work to make our schools work for us.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website