Under apartheid, black South Africans received lower quality education than white South Africans, perpetuating an unskilled labor market and system of subservience. Although now a democratic country, South Africa still suffers from the highest level of inequality in the world. Education should be the ultimate “equalizer” in an unequal society, but today there are still essentially two education systems in South Africa. One system is well-functioning, with high-quality infrastructure, qualified and motivated teachers, and excellent results. The other system, based primarily in African and “colored” communities, is under-resourced and dysfunctional, crippled by lack of infrastructure, poor management, and severe levels of teacher absenteeism. While engagement at the policy level is crucial in a country that was built around institutionalized inequality, youth voices on the ground, from those directly affected by the injustices, must be heard in order to truly transform education policy in an equitable way. Too often young people, especially young people in underserved communities, are spoken FOR instead of WITH, and not provided with the access or tools to participate in the discourse.
We believe in a bottom-up approach to education reform, starting with those directly affected by education policies–the students.
Our solution is a youth media and social activism workshop that empowers students to share their voices, articulate their needs, understand and engage with their communities and affect policy issues that affect them. Participants become socially conscious storytellers as they build documentary filmmaking and photography skills, and use those skills to advocate for themselves and their communities.
This past summer we ran a pilot workshop with five high school students from Khayelitsha–the fastest growing township in South Africa. We partnered with the nonprofit, Equal Education, which advocates for more equal and quality education throughout the country. In collaboration with our students, we created Amazwi Wethu, which means “Our Voices” in isiXhosa. Together we produced two 15 minute documentaries surrounding their education and activism.
As we observed throughout our time at Equal Education, even with the best efforts, youth advocate organizations can have a tendency to be directed from the top-down, engaging with governments and policies more than the youth themselves. Our workshop empowers the youth of Khayelitsha to have a more active voice in the movement for more quality and equal education.
Further, we aim to provide our students with valuable and employable technical skills to compete in today’s global market.