By Satyagraha Reporter
A mini-conference hosted by the Chatsworth Youth Centre, Satyagraha – In Pursuit of Truth, Government Communication Information System (GCIS), the Chatsworth Education Centre, Democracy Development Programme (DDP) and School for International Training (SIT) was held at the Chatsworth Youth Centre in March. The event was attended by representatives of 40 schools and community organisations. The purpose of the mini-conference was to obtain feedback from representatives of schools and the community about the National Schools Pledge. A presentation on the pledge was made by Mr W. Thabatha, Director of Race and Ethics in the National Department of Education (DOE).
The mini-conference broke into commissions to discuss key issues that affect young people. These issues were to be tabled to inform the submission that would be sent to the department of education. There was lively participation in the commissions from learners and other stakeholders. The youth articulated their concerns freely. Some of the issues identified were peer pressure and bullying, the lack of credible role models, the lack of community involvement and support, the negative influence of the commercial media and public broadcasters and substance abuse. It was also acknowledged that young people should not seek to shift responsibility for their actions onto the shoulders of others. The participants in the commissions felt very strongly that young people should take responsibility for their actions and should support each other. There was a strong consensus that youth or peer counsellors are required in schools so that learners could more easily relate to.
After much discussion, the conference agreed that the discussions on the pledge would be summarized and submitted to the DOE. The following is a summary of the key issues regarding the national schools pledge as identified and agreed upon by the participants in the conference:
Acceptance of the concept and intention of the pledge
The conference was broadly in support of the national Schools pledge. It was felt that the pledge could serve to build national unity and pride amongst the youth and give them a sense of purpose. There were however certain concerns and reservations:
2.1 It was felt that the pledge did not take into account the different levels of learner development and whilst secondary students might understand the language, primary school learners would have difficulty in understanding the pledge.
2.2 The pledge was in English only.
That the language used in the pledge be adapted/modified to suit the level of development of learners.
There could possibly be 2 pledges – a more sophisticated one containing more advanced concepts for high school learners and a simplified one perhaps, focusing more on morals and values for primary school learners.
The pledge should be published in all 11 official languages.
Internalisation of the pledge and ensuring that it has meaning to learners
It was felt that if the learners did not understand and commit themselves to the pledge, it would be reduced to a meaningless repetition of words that the learners did not even understand or support.
There was a strong view that there should be intense discussions and programmes designed to foster learners’ understanding and acceptance of the pledge. These programmes should ensure that learners understood the intention and what the pledge was about. The pledge should only be taken after learners displayed a sound understanding of it.
The taking of the pledge should be accompanied by intensive discussions and explanation. This is to ensure that when learners take the pledge they feel passionate about it and understand what they are committing themselves to.
Issues relating to the honouring of the past and the need to build unity
Although there were views that stated that Paragraph1, L2-4 of the pledge constituted a harking back to the past and that this continuous harping on the past was unproductive, the majority view at the conference was that we needed to honour the past and look to the future. It was felt that the past could not be ignored but neither should there be undue dwelling on it. Young people needed to know our history so that it could inspire them to move positively into the future.
It was felt that as the pledge was something that could unite youth around a common purpose and set of values, it should say something about unity or uniting youth.
Prior to the adoption of the pledge, it should be explained to learners that the pledge is intended to recognize and honour our past in a positive sense.
The pledge should be reworded with L2-4 saying something along the lines of:
“Recognising the injustices of our past
And honouring the history of our struggle for justice and freedom…
L6 could read: And stand up in unity for justice
The school curriculum should create the space for more discussion and debate on constructive ways of resolving conflict and on the key concepts embodied in the pledge.
The mini-conference ended on a very positive note. It showed that young people possessed strong views about how they viewed issues and more importantly, it showed that they were committed to building a strong, united country in which the youth could play a positive and meaningful role.