While there’s a lot of information about the fourth industrial revolution and the advances in the digital world, I am sceptical about what this means for Africa and, in particular, the girl child on this continent. If the future is one of technological advancement beyond our wildest dream, then I want the African girl child to be part of that future.
A few months ago, I was discussing the state of South Africa’s education system with like-minded friends. Our discussion was about the state of literacy amongst primary school children and I found myself reflecting on the generational effect of a poor education system.
While we understand the consequences of apartheid on education I wonder if we’ve been able to think about education with the future in mind. What does the past 24 years of education tell us about the future of South Africa’s education? If we know that we are where the architects of apartheid would have us—a education system that continues to disadvantage poor and black children—then what does the future hold?
In January this year, the first class of Molo Mhlaba School for Girls made our dream a reality. Four little girls arrived with their parents entrusting their education to a new school established by an all-woman team. I have been one of the women behind the first girls’ school in a township established by young women in South Africa. We started the school in response to the deep need for quality education in Khayelitsha with the hope of spreading the model to more places across the country. As our first year comes to an end I find myself becoming more and more excited about the future of the girls who are enrolled in our school and the future of our school.
Molo Mhlaba emerged from conversations we had in thinking about the sustainability of an after-school programme for girls based at one of the primary schools in Khayelitsha. A few years ago my friend started Thope Foundation with the aim of exposing primary school girls to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and offering Maths, English and Science support. But this was not enough. And Molo Mhlaba was the logical conclusion.
It allowed us to think about the options that girls have which are a generational consequence and that the only way to change this was thinking long term about poor, Black children’s education.
It’s not an easy thing to do; thinking about the future. It requires a lot of imagination that requires us to shift the lens from the here towards the unknown. Imagining the future means holding on to some of where we are right now but accepting that the future can take us in a variety of directions. While there’s a lot of information about the fourth industrial revolution and the advances in the digital world, I am sceptical about what this means for Africa and in particular, the girl child on this continent. If the future is one of technological advancement beyond our wildest dream, then I want the African girl child to be part of that future.
Looking at the current statistics about the number of women in STEM careers—while women graduate with degrees in this area, it does not translate into women joining the profession—it means that the fourth industrial revolution is being spearheaded by men and it will continue to be this way unless we change the system structurally. Molo Mhlaba is an institutional and structural response to the future.
While the world is shrinking and a global identity is being created every moment (which mostly mirrors the aspirations of the global north), I find myself seriously contemplating what an African identity will look in the future if the current context is one where African epistemology and heritage continues to be at the margins of our curriculum. How will our children develop their true selves if we continue to strip their lives of stories that ground them in their languages and heritage? If we continue to rely on institutions established by colonial and apartheid visionaries, can an African future really exist without institutions created by Africans themselves?
These are some of the questions we hope to explore at Molo Mhlaba through a curriculum which centres the Arts, Science, Technology and Maths from the Foundation Phase. We hope we will be a step closer to finding the answers that an African future will need. By choosing to focus on girls at our school we hope that children leaving our school will see themselves as Engineers, Scientists, Physicists and Inventors whose humanity has not been compromised.
They will value history and stories as a core part of the work they will do as innovators. Our girls are already seeing experiments as part of their play. They are exposed to lego, computer skills and robotics very early in their curriculum which sparks their curiosity to see STEM as a normal part of their world.
The recent statistics released by the HSRC about sexual violence in schools tells us that there’s a need for girls to be protected; and for boys to have different versions of masculinity. Hence the choice of a girls’ school (where, with the right partners, the option of a boys’ school can be explored). A staggering number of children in schools are not safe because of the peers and staff who prey on them because they are girls. Molo Mhlaba is an alternative to this as our girls are safe and they learn in an environment that values their body, mind and sense of self. More importantly, the existence of Molo Mhlaba has us thinking seriously what the future of the boy child looks like in a world that currently enculturates him into power and misogyny. Empowering girls cannot happen without raising boys differently.
We now have 35 girls in our school. We want to create more Molo Mhlaba schools for girls across South Africa. We need black teachers who understand the importance of providing a quality education for black children within their communities. We need teachers and parents who make the connection between providing for our children and getting more access to resources such as the land and property in order for us to expand our school. We need more people with deep pockets to believe in our vision of making more Molo Mhlaba Schools for girls. We need more people to believe that the future of the poor black child does not need to be a reproduction of their past.