Another Youth Day (16 June) has come and passed in South Africa as many still maintain that we need a socially just education. In many ways the continent of Africa has advanced; it has moved from the past position where it was always condemned by oppressive colonial laws and failing states. 

There is new hope when we speak of alternative ways to solve problems. The widespread debates on the need for Africa’s renewal currently demonstrate that Africans have realised a need to transform their societies for the better. And there is still hope that pan-Africanism will bring a new empowered continent and a truly liberated people ready to confront global challenges.

But there has been less support for young people, especially those who come from poor families and grow up to re-live the cycle of poverty due to the lack of development opportunities in society. Many young people suffer from exclusion and inequality as we usually fail to realise that with good investment on young people we build a better future as we close the gap between the rich and the poor. In many post-colonial societies people have tried to use education as a leveller in society, but they have not always succeeded. The dream of education for example failed in Nyerere’s Tanzania although education was a top priority after independence in 1961. Despite this, the youth continued to experience problems such as dropping out of school, early pregnancy, risk of contracting HIV and several others.

For many families, education has never addressed the consequences of oppression hence some may talk about the need for a relevant socially just education. Many children still need to see education as that which encompasses a humanising pedagogy and as a liberating practice. In Africa we still need education that would respond to not only poverty but to various ills left by colonialism.

Development of young Africans through the necessary and relevant skills that would address their immediate problems will enrich the lives of all young people. Arguably, the biggest call from South African students recently, was the call for a decolonised and Africanised education. The youth maintained that education was hardly serving the needs of African people because it still reflected the colonial past and was not equipping them to be ready to serve their communities. Amongst others, the youth stated that their university education’s irrelevance continues where the basic education left off.

President Zuma addressed the Pan African Youth Congress on November 28 2014. In his address he acknowledged although there are African countries that have made some progress in socio-economic development, the majority of African youth still face unemployment, underemployment, inadequate access to education, health care and housing. Furthermore, Zuma added that “the Agenda 2063 is premised on pan-Africanism and the rebirth of the African Continent. It promotes restoration of values of human solidarity, Ubuntu, self-pride, self-determination, non-sexism, non-tribalism and the celebration of our diversity”.

The words decolonisation, Africanisation and African Renaissance have been tossed around perceived as concepts that bring hope in not only youth’s challenges but Africans in general. Former South African president Thabo Mbeki maintains that real African Renaissance would be attained when there is conscious move to end greed, dehumanising poverty, obscene opulence and corruption, all factors which give rise to coups d’état and instability. Mbeki points out that African Renaissance is the hope of a decolonised Africa.

The progress of the country's success should start with the radical change in education. Education needs to disengage with its colonial past, the apartheid past. In his recent inauguration as chancellor of the University of South Africa (Unisa), Mbeki underscored the need for relevant, emancipatory curriculum. To this end we cannot disregard the indigenous knowledge systems which will be critical in bringing social justice to education. For a number of decades education in Africa tended to overlook the traditional experiences that can make the learners adept in life. A socially just education from schools can be the basis, a foundation of education that demonstrates Africa’s renewal for youth development and the future. Some have argued that without mobilisation of youth, the African Renaissance project will falter because the young people have the potential for eagerness to embrace it and let it bloom. The African Renaissance adherents maintain that this philosophy may help end graft, poverty, war and several other ills in the continent.

We need values that would give us a transformative society, a new day that brings life for all. Young people can begin this at schools that address social justice issues. But these values alone will not enhance the lives of African children. Coupled with them should be the vision and goals of attaining education for sustainable development of the continent. The challenge we have in Africa, especially South Africa, is the rising rate of unemployment. Over the years in South Africa, recent studies have shown that the number of Black graduates in particular, has quadrupled although they soon join the unemployment ranks.

The call for Africa’s renewal should address some of these as we seek to address this biggest youth challenge in Africa – youth unemployment. It has become the huge disempowering factor in Africa when youth cannot access the economy. Education for sustainable development will need young people to embrace culture that will reinforce Africa’s growth. The learners should always see the link between their world and formal education. This is the only way that education will be able to address social ills.

Education for the continent’s renewal should give young people an opportunity to be innovative and youth in Africa like any youth in the world, need opportunities. Education’s biggest role is to harness young people to be able to be harbingers of a new Africa. Education should continuously equip the young people to lead in developing new ways in changing their society. African renaissance needs vibrant, diligent but disciplined youth who have been through a meaningful education system.

Former Nigerian president Obasanjo magnifies the role that education should play in Africa and refers to education as a prerequisite for many of Africa's ills. He argues that by 2050 Africa’s population of young people would have doubled to 452 million and this bulge should be an opportunity; “a demographic dividend that will power Africa’s growth in the 21st century”. But Africa needs to manage this growth carefully or the disaffected youth will add even more problems to the continent and this is why we need Africa’s renewal in face of the new challenges and fears.

A decolonised system of education will challenge the status quo and move Africa forward as she uses her strengths. Ngugi Wa Thiongo writes about globalectics – as he underscores the ideal of building a better understanding of humanity between the global North and South – he explores a question of how we should ensure that the world has a meeting point. And many African thinkers have expressed this in several ways.

In the final analysis, the South African government and various other African governments should be commended for the various initiatives in changing or enhancing the lives and the roles of young people. African countries desperately need to plan for the future of a renewed and empowered continent. Socially just learning institutions will enhance abundance and growth in of the continent. The urgent need for African Renaissance has never been so pronounced. 

It is largely through effective learning institutions that Africa can achieve the idea of a rebirth. Schools need to build the intelligentsia that would lead to the rebirth of Africa. Africans should move with haste otherwise we will continue to lose generation after generation. We need to continue focusing on ways of generating knowledge production for African-focused generation and the youth should drive the revival of the continent to multiply Africa’s growth into the 21st century. This is the time to change the picture of youth recently portrayed by former president Obasanjo who contends, “The youth are uneducated. Unskilled. Unemployed. They have frustration… I believe that the greatest instrument of population management is education, particularly girl-child education. One, the longer they stay in school, the longer it takes them to start producing children”. 

The society can stop the proliferation of doomed youth through a socially just education – education that young people have been clamouring for since 1976 and years before.

Professor Vuyisile Msila is a director at Unisa’s Change Management Unit. He writes in his personal capacity.