Monday, July 18, 2011

On His 93rd Birthday, We Celebrate a Courageous Champion of Educational Options

Today marks the birthday of one of our generation’s great leaders, a walking embodiment of courage and someone to whom an entire society owes its freedom. Among the remarkable man’s most famous quotes is the following:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
He also said this:
“All children—regardless of where they live—have the right to learn.”
Do you know who uttered those words? It was Nelson Mandela, the former South African president whose 27 years in prison helped destroy the oppressive apartheid regime in his home country. He celebrates his 93rd birthday today.

Nelson Mandela at a 1998 event in Brazil.
Mandela has held a commitment to education since his own early experiences in South Africa, where the educational opportunities he had growing up in the 1930s provided him with the foundation that began his lifelong struggle to spread and fight for the ideals of freedom and democracy.

South Africa shares a number of similarities with the U.S. when it comes to inequity. The end of apartheid in 1994, when Mandela became president, helped integrate South African society but still left wide gaps in the educational options available to children from low-income families. Apartheid’s effects are still being felt, as many of those same inequalities still exist today.

Over the years, Mandela has been a stalwart supporter of giving kids options for a better education. From his time as president up to the present day, he’s done for South Africa what so many in our movement are trying to do halfway across the world: give kids hope. 

We went through some of his inspiring words and discovered a longstanding commitment to giving opportunities to children from impoverished backgrounds. Read those words after the jump.

Speaking on August 14, 1998 at the opening of Dalindyebo Senior Secondary School, he said the following:
 “We must therefore ensure that all our children have access to decent and formal education. If our education system is to produce the capable, skilled and empowered people who can turn South Africa into the just and prosperous nation of our dreams, we must overcome the years of neglect which left most of our children without the proper facilities for their education.”
At a May 2002 Conference of Education, he spoke about the importance of “civil society groups and the private sector can form partnerships with governments” to help kids:
“We know firsthand what education can mean to a child: in our lifetimes we have seen a generation of children armed with education lift up a nation…yet there is an education crisis in the world today…by allowing this we are condemning an entire generation to live in poverty and to be excluded from meaningful participation in society.”
A year later in Johannesburg, Mandela spoke at a celebration of education reforms about how far his country has traveled:
“South Africa inherited a highly dysfunctional educational system from the Apartheid era. It is one of our major tasks of reconstruction to build an educational system that provides quality opportunities for all people.”
In December 2004, he called for a comprehensive approach to reform. 
“By pooling our different strengths and assets and through strong partnerships with government, business and civil society, we can make a difference...we all know that, education more than anything else, improves our chances of leading better lives.”
We’ll end with a quote from January 2, 2007, when Mandela joined Oprah Winfrey at the opening of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a boarding school funded by Oprah that gives educational options to girls from impoverished South African backgrounds.
“Oprah has shown us that no matter what your background and how impoverished or underprivileged you were, you can become anything in life if you work hard and study hard.”
With that, we say, Happy Birthday President Mandela!

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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