Monday, 24 June 2013

Society, you're a crazy breed

Friends and I have started to work on a project. We are not entirely sure what it is or what each of us wants from it, but at the centre is this idea: "play your part". Being in academia is a lonely place where one trades in egos and needs to constantly side-step conversations because no one ever says honestly what they think. It is also an elitist space with people often presenting papers and speaking in such a way that the average Joe is clueless as to what they are actually saying. Maybe it's only me who does not understand.

It bothers me that being 'learned' is restricted to those that can afford learning. It is not like that everywhere in the world, but here (and I am assuming in many third world countries, which South Africa is not and still is, somehow) getting a good education often seems out of reach. I am not sure if the reason people don't demand a better education is because they are uneducated ; if the government preaches better education but does nothing to improve the system in order to keep the majority of the voters dumb and clinging to the ANC's 'liberator' persona; if many are simply not interested in learning, or if the concept of education in itself is wrong.

In the gym the other day I overheard two middle-class white ladies saying that the schools had failed their children because the kids were told that they were bad at a particular subject when in effect it was just the teacher's style of transmitting the information that was wrong. I don't know. I never liked our math teacher and thus also did badly in mathematics, irrespective of going to additional classes and trying to study. I still think that trigonometry and algebra were torture. But young people should also learn that life is not handed to you on a silver platter and that the average person is not great at everything. Finding one thing you are good at is already an achievement. I mean, I know I can bake decent cakes, but beyond that who knows what my strengths are.

Anyway. Back to project no-name. It really doesn't have a name. But the idea is to change the way academia works and to make learning more horizontal instead of hierarchical. Learning doesn't stop when you finish school/university/etc. Learning never stops. And I think that is what is fundamentally wrong with the education system here: it preaches that when you complete your matric or your degree or your diploma, you will get work with that and then you have stopped learning. But in the 21st century it is no longer plausible to believe you will be employed by the same company for your entire life, or that you will find a job doing exactly what you studied. Let's see if our project can succeed in helping to change the way society thinks of education and thus play our part.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

I wish


I've been watching The Voice and Nashville. Never in my life have I listened to so much Country music. One the one hand it is not really what I would choose to hear because I can't relate too much to what they are singing about and it just doesn't do much for my ears. Like I'm an okie from muskogee. Ja, that one made me forward really quickly.

But some of the songs were really cool. And apparently The Civil Wars count as country, so here is a little taste.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Someone told me

It was time to chose what I wanted to study.
Law? Yes. Law.
But I wanted to keep the languages, somehow.
BA Law? Sounded good. The "law" part made it sound official enough to contrast with the frivolity I had often heard associated with a BA degree. For instance, when my older sister went to the university's campus with me for their open day we walked past the Humanities building and the drama students were performing something. My sister said: "Just don't study something in the Humanities, they are all weird".
So I thought the whole law dealio would lead to success and happiness and just a great life, and would protect me from being associated with the weird people.

Somehow I mistakenly only enrolled for a general BA, without the -law, and that has been the best error I have committed so far. By coincidence I took a visual communication course because my one friend said it was easy and all one did was watch music videos. Yay, easy peasy credits.

Now, years later I am really happy not to be a lawyer. Sure, sometimes I think other professions make more money, but my non-profession at the moment and my desire to never stop studying is a happiness factor that other things would have deprived me of.

Look, no one wants to constantly hear that what they studied/are studying is a joke, that they won't find work, that anything in the humanities is just a recipe for struggle. No one should be ignorant enough to believe themselves immune to recessions, changes, choices and personal disasters that happen at 2PM of a perfectly normal Tuesday. That is just the way life rolls, it is not restricted to Bachelor of Arts graduates.

And so the rector of the University of the Free State, Prof. Jansen, seems to think as well:

"Don't kid yourself about BAs
Jonathan Jansen: "So what's the difference between a BA degree and a large pizza?" one of my student leaders recently asked a large group of parents inquiring about sending their child to university. "A large pizza can feed a family of four," she joked. I laughed, then cried.
Laughed, because of the obvious wit of the comparison. Cried, because this is one of the most misleading pieces of information about BAs in South Africa today.
It was not that I had not overheard "BA jokes". At my previous university, there was rampant talk among female students of a "BA man-soek" specialisation (BA find-a-husband). After all, what other reason could you have for doing a BA than to prowl the campus for a life mate?
Sadly, many parents buy into this myth about the uselessness of a BA. The actuarial science degree gets you a specific job, as do degrees in marketing, optometry or accountancy. With this common-sense, though often wrong understanding of a degree, parents guide their children away from a BA towards "something more practical" or "something that can get you a job".
The truth is I have seen as many BA students get good jobs as I have seen BComm Accounting students without jobs. In fact, I would argue that a BA from a good university is likelier to get you different kinds of jobs - not a bad option in an economic recession - than a single-career job that comes with a degree in physiotherapy or in law.
Why is that? A good BA qualification from a good university would have taught you generic competencies seldom learnt in narrow occupational degrees. A good BA would have given you the foundations of learning across disciplines like sociology, psychology, politics, anthropology and languages. A good BA would have given you access to critical thinking skills, appreciation of literature, understanding of cultures, the uses of power, the mysteries of the mind, the organisation of societies, the complexities of leadership, the art of communication and the problem of change. A good BA would have taught you something about the human condition, and so something about yourself. In short, a good BA degree would have given you a solid education that forms the basis for workplace training.
The head of Johannesburg's Stock Exchange, a gentle man called Russell Loubser, taught me a valuable lesson the other day. I was talking to this astute businessman about the training function of universities when he gently chided me, the education man, with timeless wisdom. "No professor," he said, "you educate them. I train them."
This is where the American colleges get it right when they talk about a liberal arts education in the undergraduate years. There is more than enough time for the occupational training that comes later and is best done in the workplace.
What we fail to do at South African universities is educate young minds broadly in ethics, values, reasoning, appreciation, problem solving, argumentation and logic. Locked into single-discipline thinking, our young people fail to learn that the most complex social and human problems cannot be solved except through interdisciplinary thinking that crosses these disciplinary boundaries.
Anyone who thought HIV/Aids was simply an immunological problem is the victim of the kind of narrow training restricted to the biomedical sciences. The syndrome is as much a sociological, economic, political and cultural problem as it might be a problem of virology. Do not get me wrong: HIV causes Aids, period. What I am arguing is that its resolution will take more than an injection, and that is the broader value that a BA degree can offer a well-educated youngster.
So the next time you hear people make jokes about a worthless BA degree, tell them about Bobby Godsell (the BA graduate who served as the CEO of AngloGold Ashanti), Vincent Maphai (the BA graduate who rose to serve as chairman of BHP Billiton), Clem Sunter (the famous scenario planner and former chairman of the Anglo American Chairman's Fund), Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (the former deputy president of South Africa) or Saki Macozoma (the chairman of Stanlib and Liberty Life).
The list of highly successful graduates with BAs, or equivalent degrees, is endless.
Then go out and buy your family a large pizza." 

 Copied from the UFS Humanities FB page.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Gotta keep moving with a troubled mind a following

Twee jaar gelede wou ek vir my ouma se verjaarsdag foto's van die hele familie se hande kry en op een of ander manier bymekaar sit. Sy het foto's van almal in haar huis, maar die hele klomp is nooit saam op een foto nie. Ek dink daar is net een foto van 1996 waar die een oumagrootjie verjaar het en omtrent almal daar was. Maar nou bestaan dieselfde eenheid nie meer nie: van hulle is oorsee, ander is geskei, ander is nie meer deel van die familie nie en ander het weer nuut bygekom. In die ou end het my idee nie gewerk nie, maar ek het tog die cool een van my neef se hande geneem.

Dit is nogals vreemd. Al die niggies en neefies kom nie gereeld bymekaar nie, maar as dit gebeur kuier ons tog heel lekker saam (dalk dink ek net so, haha). Van hulle is nou meer Engels as Afrikaans, van hulle is/was oorsee, van hulle kom dalk nooit terug nie. Op een of ander manier bly mens steeds familie, en stel belang in mekaar se lewens. Ek dink net dit raak moeiliker hoe ouer mens word en hoe verder weg mens van mekaar af bly. Destyds het ons ouers vir mekaar gekuier en so het ons maar met mekaar gespeel, maar nou moet mens moeite doen dat die kringe van ons lewens nog steeds mekaar oorvleuel.

Dit voel vir my ook altyd as of die ander weet waar hulle hoort.

My neef klink soos sy pa as hy praat, en waneer hy goed vertel klink dit as of hy weet waar sy wortels is en waar hy wil bly. Hy het 'n passie vir sy omgewing wat ek eer het as ek in ander stede die metro kan vat en kan rondstap. Die Vrystaat is vir my 'n plek waar ek ons trein te lank gestaan het en waar die lig altyd mooi is om foto's te neem. Dit is nie naby aan my hart nie, maar Pretoria of Duitsland is ook nie eintlik nie. Dalk het ek wieletjies aan my boude en kan nie ophou beweeg nie waar die ander al 'n plek gekry het waar hulle maar die remme kon trap en hul wortels kon ingrawe.