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Today marks 45 years since the Soweto uprising, a series of protests led by black schoolchildren in SA that began on June 16 1976 in response to the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.

In commemorating these events, June 16 is now a public holiday in SA, known as Youth Day.

In the context of cultural discourse, SA is often referred to as a rainbow nation.

With its 11 official languages, there has always been a debate about a chosen medium of instruction in learning institutions.

This is because literature proves that language has a direct or indirect effect on the standard of education.

Many young people lost their lives in the Soweto uprising in the name of protesting for access to a better standard of education an education system that does not provide education through discrimination, but is accommodating of the multilingualism that exists in the country.

Over the years, many efforts have been made to better the standard of education in SA.

However, among many others, the three main interrelated socio-economic issues in SA are poverty, unemployment and low levels of education, and they persist.

For the youth to eradicate poverty and participate in the economy through employment and/or entrepreneurship, they require access to quality education.

In recent years, the country has experienced a series of protests for access to quality education from the youth.

The “fees must fall” movement that began in the middle of 2015 and spread across the country is one example.

These continuing series of events are proof that the battle for access to quality education is far from over.

Having noted that youth unemployment is soaring in SA and the government is often blamed as the key orchestrator of this unfortunate turn of events, critics cite corruption and maladministration in government and the lack of a comprehensive plan to reduce unemployment. While it is easy to blame the government, other key issues underline the crisis.

Contributing factors include the inability of the economy at present to create sufficient jobs, especially during and post the Covid-19 pandemic.

Access to quality education is no exception to the contributing factors of youth unemployment in SA.

This piece, therefore, includes the proposition that there needs to be a collective effort across all educational phases in the country for adequate resource mobilisation to provide access to quality education for the youth.

However, the government and other roleplayers are continuously playing a critical role to reduce low levels of education.

Through various funding opportunities for academic research, learning and teaching, a significant contribution is measurable.

On the other side, regarding language policies as gazetted by the government, efforts to allow multilingualism across all spheres of education are recognised and appreciated.

The youth in SA are capable of contributing significantly to uplifting the communities they come from.

Through access to quality education, this purpose can be met.

With reference to students and/or graduates from higher learning institutions, the knowledge acquired from these institutions can be of great value in contributing to solving societal challenges.

There are community projects through a nonprofit organisation known as Enactus, for example, which allow university students to develop entrepreneurial ideas that can help to uplift local and regional communities, and provincial residents.

As I borrow from the wisdom of Lesiba Seshoka, I now believe that “the two pillars of academia, research and learning and teaching, are vital to the efficient and ground-breaking activities of a university.

“But if the sweet fruit of those laudable endeavours stays within the walls of the socalled ‘ivory towers’ of higher education, great opportunities are forfeited to get out there into communities and make a difference”.

Beyond the Afrikaans language as a medium of instruction, as it was during the Soweto uprising, other barriers that the youth face to access quality education include lack of proper resource mobilisation to generate sufficient funding opportunities.

Should these be addressed appropriately by the vested powers, more opportunities for access to quality education will be available for the youth in SA.

The youth in SA are capable of contributing significantly to uplifting the communities they come from

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 16 June 2021 written by Sboniso Cele. Sboniso has an honours degree in corporate communications and postgraduate diploma in business administration from Nelson Mandela University’s business school. He is a stakeholder communications assistant at NMU’s ocean sciences campus, strategy project office of the Vice-Chancellor, but writes in his personal capacity.

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