Education is not the whole key

Several activists and leaders have often cited that education is the key to success, with Mandela the figure head for his rendition of this sentiment on 16th July 2003, when he said, “Education is the most powerful part of that world changing arsenal”. In the Americas, a prominent civil rights activist also contributed with the following words “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who are prepared for it today”. Martin Luther King also valued education and described as a practice of teaching people to think critically.

My stature in society does not allow me to play critic to words said by great men. I only hope to build a good enough argument to bring to light, that success is not a given once you have attained a formal education.

Mr. Toastmaster, fellow members, thank you for this highest of privileges.

I will start my argument by asking a question. What is success? A quick google search comes up with the following definition:

The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.

With this definition I can argue that success in the South African context is:

  • A stable income, doing a job you love with a career ahead of you
  • A nice house in a safe and quiet neighborhood
  • A car, flash and fast or maybe safe and modest
  • Traveling to another continent or country
  • Or simply having enough time to develop a hobby

Our dreams can be easily accessed through education, we have been told. Go to a reputable institute of learning, get your mind molded into an unstoppable force of nature. Then you will be able to reach you dreams, we have been assured.

But even this most modest of dreams cannot be made real by education alone. I pose the following examples from an article in the Mail & Guardian titled “Graduates and their unemployment dilemma “

  • A geology major from the University of Western Cape who has been looking for work since he graduated with his Honours in 2011 and now works as a teacher.
  • A lady who holds a diploma in media and advertising from Boston Media House College who also graduated in 2011. She speaks on the abuse in her industry and little opportunity.
  • Then Seema, her story resonated with me the most. The first and only university graduate in her family. In her eyes she saw herself as her family’s last hope at a decent life. With a BSc in Molecular and Life Science from the University of Limpopo, she was not off the mark, nor was she gambling her future. She made a calculated risk. But for her and others in this list, the odds were not in their favour.

According to the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey, 130200 graduates were unemployed as of Q1 in 2019 from total of 6.2 million people. This explains where Seema falls into the cracks. I now allude you a contrasting story of Mantombi.  In 2019 she graduated from the University of Pretoria with a BSc in Biochemistry. She also found herself without a job for couple of months. This is the reality of South Africa’s youth.

But she used her resources to generate income and to continue circulating her CV to big and small pharmaceutical firms and labs. She landed a position at a Youth employment accelerator program called Harambe as an administrator. But she wanted something in her field, so she fixed her LinkedIn account and reach out to her network. She asked family and friends to help her look and she never gave up hope. She has since moved from her initial job and is now an intern at Synaxus where she is gathering skills to become a Clinical research associate.

Mantombi is my partner and I saw her become more resilient with each challenge. She had a degree, but she also had a goal to achieve outside of that.  Character is not one of the modules in Biochemistry.

Education is not the entire story of success.  It is simply the introduction; it is where we start to fulfill our purpose. And since we are the authors of our own stories, we simply cannot afford to stop on the introduction.

The body is written down by doing the best you can do right now. Ambitious goals require you to stand to intolerable amounts of pain.  They require a continuous monotonous consistence. They also require wells of patience.

For you to make real that house with a beautiful stop- nonsense, you must first lay down a good foundation of dedication to your cause. A dedication that spans decades and even an entire lifetime.  Add discipline into the formula as you cannot wait for the lighting of inspiration to strike for, if you don’t you will waste your life starring up at the sky.

I will close by saying, Education is a map. Become a navigator and chart your way to your success.

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