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Martin Luther King didn't say, "I have a graph"

Over the last two weeks, the Valenture team has finally begun to realise the dream that we've been working towards for nearly two and a half years. We've zigged and zagged, we've succeeded and we've failed, often, but the one constant throughout the journey has been the belief that we can, and we must, do something big to positively impact our education system in South Africa.

There is an old adage that talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. It is still the case that the life chances of the average South African child are determined not by their ability, or as a result of hard work and determination, but instead by their socio-economic conditions, their demographics, the province and community of their birth, and the wealth of their parents. These realities are so deterministic that before a child’s seventh birthday, one can predict with some precision whether they will inherit a life of chronic poverty and sustained unemployment, or a dignified life and meaningful work.

As a country, if we cannot figure out a way to empower our youth and give them the tools they need to succeed in a rapidly changing knowledge economy, then we are heading towards big trouble.

It's probably self-evident to say that education is about more than the accumulation of knowledge. Amongst the many other roles that education performs for our society, there is one that I believe is more important right now than ever:

We need to create learning environments that allow our youth to dream big. To develop an audacious belief in themselves and their potential which is not limited by their circumstances.

The practical reality is that, as humans, our ability to dream about our future is limited by what, and more importantly who, we've been exposed to. The people we have around us model the behaviour, attitudes and work ethic that we come to accept as the norm. As youngsters, the modelling from the adults around us shows us what's possible. Then, as we cast our minds to our future, our thinking about what's possible is innately constrained or enabled by who and what we've been exposed to.

Who and what we expose our youth to can either be our greatest opportunity, or our greatest downfall. In a society that is as sharply divided as ours, we need to find effective bridges.

Online and blended learning represents an important bridge, and creates a new possibility to link students with inspiring people and institutions regardless of where they are located. We need to take the opportunity presented by online and blended solutions very seriously, and radically reconsider what it means to "go to school" in South Africa.

Who would have thought that our many learners in rural Eastern Cape could now study with one of the top schools in the country, St Stithians? Until now, it simply wasn't possible for a high school learner in Mitchells Plain to be part of the UCT family, but now through the UCT Online High School, learners can be inspired to dream bigger through the role modelling of inspiring leaders like Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

In these aspirational digital environments, learners are empowered to dream beyond the limitations of their immediate circumstances. Martin Luther King didn't say, "I have a graph". He had a dream, and his dream started a movement. Education is about more than the arithmetic and excel skills required to plot a graph, and digital technologies represent a totally new way to connect learners to inspiring people and institutions across the world.


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