Good Enough is not Enough

“The greatest single challenge facing our globalized world is to combat and eradicate its disparities” – Nelson Mandela 

            With the seemingly unending string of attacks on American institutions taking place at home, it’s hard not to draw parallels to the systems that exist here- particularly when it comes to education. As a proud product of the public education system (kindergarten through bachelors degree), I can attest to the necessity and value of a public education, but I also know I was lucky. I attended school under the best circumstances- parents who pushed me and held me accountable, teachers willing to engage with me and encourage me to pursue my interests, and the opportunity to partake in advanced placement and honors courses.

But here in South Africa, the significance of a public education is driven home. For at least 90% of the almost 900 learners at my school, the absence of a public school would mean no access to education. Due to their socioeconomic situation, the government in almost every way imaginable provides for these learners: free lunches, textbooks, stationary, and even uniforms if need be. But it’s not lost on me that these kids still receive a poor education. With 50 plus learners per class, a dramatic lack of resources, and exhausted teachers it’s little surprise that they struggle.

The brutal truth is that these kids, who have such a zest for life, and already encounter problems beyond my imagination in their daily lives, are shoved in three to a desk in a classroom and expected to master a menagerie of subjects in a language that is completely foreign to them. And yet we wonder why it is that “more than 85% of primary pupils make the transition to lower secondary in most countries in Europe, Asia, North and South America, but in 19 out of 44 African countries, more than half of all children will not complete primary school” (UNESCO Global Education Digest).

And while, providing these children with a safe space to be, where they may learn something is certainly better than nothing, the reality is that “the focus of development should (and must) look forward, beyond universal primary education”. So while people continue to attack the public education system at home, I urge you to consider that increasing barriers to access will not only disproportionately harm minority groups, but that it will in the long run build a society unable to keep up with the social, economic, and technological advances and demands of the globalized world. There is no single greater (or more crucial) investment in the future for, “ Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today” (Malcolm X). And, as I hope we can all agree, the future belongs to every child, and for them, an education that is “good enough” is simply not enough.

On this day

On this day above all others I as a Peace Corps Volunteer must hold my head up high and remember the reasons for serving my country. On this day it is important to acknowledge the pain, frustration, anxiety and disgust that envelopes many of us. On this day I must demonstrate to my learners, to my village, and to all that I meet that the United States is more than what we read in newspapers and see on TV. On this day I must prove that as a Hispanic, Jewish female with an immigrant father, that I matter, that I can continue to be a role model for others, and that my voice cannot be contained regardless of who is in power. On this day I must remember to show compassion for my nation that is reeling from great pain. On this day I must remember that there is a future, one that can be brightened by spreading the message of peace, equity, and kindness. On this day, while I hurt and rage and feel sick to my stomach, I must strive for a path forward. On this day I must remember that some days are truly horrible, that the hurt and fear felt is exponentially greater for many and that I remain incredibly lucky to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa.