South Africa’s attitude problem

I have always said that South Africa needs effective education in order to escape its poverty trap. There is, however, something else that is perhaps even more important and far harder to obtain, a change in culture or attitude.

If you look at the unrest, the constant strikes (often accompanied with violence), the unceasing corruption, you get the impression that there is a culture of entitlement. “We were harmed by the legacy of Apartheid and therefore we deserve [insert demands here]”. I fear this is only hampering our progress.

If we are to grow, to escape the bonds of apartheid, we need people who not only demand opportunities but create those opportunities. We need people willing to work to create their futures rather than just demanding it from the government or their employer. This is a part of the problem that I have with affirmative action. It enforces the entitlement culture.  It says “you deserve the opportunity and we don’t care what you do with it.”

With youth unemployment in South Africa over 50%  there is another negative effect on attitudes: despair and hopelessness. The belief that there is no way to improve your circumstances can lead to two things: complete inaction or unbelievable anger. We probably have both in South Africa, but it is the latter that makes news headlines.

Thus we need firstly to give people hope. Hope is the motivation. Then we need to make sure they know that their lives are in their hands – it is their responsibility to improve their lot. But how do we do that? Perhaps the answer still lies in our education system, in perhaps the most influential role models besides parents that children ever encounter, in teachers

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