SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK TO THE TWENTIETH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON TECHNOLOGY AND EDUCATION,
POTCHEFSTROOM, 4 APRIL 2002
PREPARING FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM
Prof Eloff, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure for me to be able to return to my old alma mater, to an institution that has played such a significant role in my own life and in the lives of my family.
President Mbeki has called on us to make the 21st century the African century. He has said that the time has come for Africa to emerge from a long period of darkness and fear into one of light and a dream fulfilled. He has called for the establishment of a New Partnership for Africa’s Development to translate this dream into reality.
I strongly support President Mbeki’s vision. The question that I would like to ask this evening is: how is this going to happen? What will we as Africans have to do to turn this dream into reality? What, in particular, will we have to do to educate the next generation of Africans to meet this historic challenge?
The challenge is very great:
- Only 80% of our children attend primary school, compared with 104% in the developed world;
- only 34% go on to high school compared with 99% in the developed world; and
- a paltry 7% make it to the tertiary level of education compared with more than 43% in Europe.
- a high percentage of our schools do not have enough school books;
- the physical education infrastructure is hopelessly inadequate. Many of our continent’s schools do not even have electricity, let alone access to modern teaching aids, the internet and computers;
- most of our teachers are trained to a lower standard than their counterparts in the developed world. 
How, under these circumstances, are we going to be able to compete in the rough and tumble of a globalising world? How will we be able to claim the 21st century for ourselves when so many of the cards seem to be stacked against us?
Let me say at the outset that I am no longer an expert in the field of education. There will be many people at this conference who will be in a far better position than me to prescribe solutions – particularly with regard to the utilisation of the most modern technology in addressing education problems. However, I was for many years Minister of National Education and am aware of the complexity of the challenges facing educators in Africa.
Accordingly, I would like to confine myself to some general observations,
firstly about the importance of setting goals;
secondly about the approach that we should adopt; and
thirdly about the general factors that will impact upon education in Africa in the new millennium.
To start with, I would like to propose that we in Africa
must set clear, basic and achievable education goals;
that we must set target dates and
find the resources necessary to achieve our plans:
- We must ensure that all our children attend primary school;
- We must adopt a major programme to increase the percentage of our children who attend secondary school;
- We must improve the quality and qualifications of our teachers;
- We must make sure that all our schools have sufficient text books and basic teaching materials;
- We must establish centres of excellence that will serve as foundations for the expansion of tertiary education throughout the continent;
- We must work toward a situation in which as many schools as possible have access to the internet and to reconditioned computers.
The approach that we adopt will be as important as the goals that we set:
- We should concentrate on providing basic literacy, numeracy and social skills, particularly at the primary school level;
- We must establish a ‘culture of learning’ where children and teachers can work together in an environment of discipline, caring and respect;
- We should invest a great deal of time, effort and resources into the recruitment and training the best possible teachers. At the end of the day, no technology can replace the role of dedicated and competent human beings.
- Having said this, we should, wherever possible, make use of practical and workable technology to fast-track the integration of African education into our globalised world;
- We must educate our children to be proud of our identity, history and culture as Africans. The ‘African century’ will have little meaning if our children emerge from it as American or European clones. We should not underestimate the importance of mother tongue education in this process – especially at the primary level. Universities in particular have a special role and responsibility to nurture our languages, our culture, and our heritage.
The latest technology can play a very important role in this process.
Satellite telecommunication can bring a world of knowledge into the most remote villages via the internet. It can help to bridge the great divide that has opened in recent decades between those who are part of the globalised world because of their access to the internet, satellite TV and modern telecommunications and those who are isolated and cut off because they do not have access to computers; to telephones; to the internet or to TV.
Of the 770 million people in Africa:
- 1 in 13 have a TV (50m)
- 1 in 40 have a fixed telephone line (20m)
- 1 in 40 have a GSM cell phone connection (20m)
- 1 in 130 have a PC (5.9m)
- 1 in 150 use the Internet (5.5m)
- 1 in 400 have pay-TV (2m)
According to current estimates, the number of African Internet users is about 4 million with 2.5 million in South Africa. This works out at about one Internet user for every 18 people in South Africa, and one for every 490 in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, compared to a world average of about one user for every 15 people, and a North American and European average of about one in every 2 people.
Once again, how is Africa supposed to compete fairly on this basis in a globalised world where access to the internet and modern telecommunications is one of the basic requirements for success?
My Foundation is at the moment co-operating with a Foundation in Nigeria that has a dream of establishing internet cafés throughout that country. These internet cafés would not only provide widespread access to the internet; they would also serve as community centres where the local population would be able to watch sport and entertainment and where they could receive basic training in a number of key life skills.
However, none of this can or will happen in isolation from our ability to meet the other objectives of NEPAD.
The reality is that there will be no advance in education in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Sierra Leone; Angola; the Sudan and Zimbabwe unless they can establish or restore a basic atmosphere of stability and law and order.
Nor will we be able to generate the resources that we will require to meet our educational goals if our economies continue to stagnate or regress.
Nor will there be much purpose to our efforts to improve education if there are no employment opportunities for matriculants and graduates and a significant percentage of those that we teach fall victim to AIDS and other serious diseases.
If President Mbeki’s dream of the African century is to become a reality we must make progress, not only in education, but in all these areas
- by promoting the stability that only law and order and free and democratic institutions can unitmately bring;
- by ensuring the removal of all obstacles to rapid economic growth; and
- by winning the war against AIDS.
I believe that if all those involved play their proper roles, then we need not be overawed by these challenges; then we can succeed.
In the first place, we must stop the wars and conflicts. Nothing will be achieved in circumstances of violence and chaos. We will not attract foreign investment. There won’t be economic growth. Nothing will improve. The continuing wars on our continent should be an affront to every one of us. None of us should rest until we have brought peace to Africa – to the Congo; to Angola; to Sudan; to Sierra Leone – wherever there is any threat of violence.
Secondly, we must promote and consolidate democracy and the rule of law in Africa.
- We must strengthen our own democracies and show our neighbours the benefits that democracy and freedom can bring.
- We must speak out unambiguously and fearlessly against tyrants and military dictators and let them know in there is no place for them in the African century.
- We must guard against those who argue that democracy is an alien import; that we can develop our own brand of African democracy without freely competing parties and elections. That is nonsense – it is the first argument that tyrants and dictators use to justify themselves. Genuine democracy means that
- ultimate power must be in the hands of the people;
- that they must have right to choose their leaders and representatives in free and secret elections;
- that their basic rights must be protected by the law.
Freedom and democracy are just as much the birthright of Africans as they are of Europeans, or Asians or Americans.
Thirdly, we must promote the values that are essential to any successful society – integrity; respect for the law; compassion; justice; diligence and healthy patriotism. These values must be the foundation of our campaign to claim the 21st century for ourselves. Without them we will regress into a swamp of corruption; crime, selfishness and exploitation.
Finally, if we wish to claim the 21st century for ourselves we must adopt the right economic policies. We must adopt policies that will attract foreign investment and enable us to compete successfully in the globalised economy. This, in turn, will require frugal and honest government; fiscal discipline; free markets and an environment in which we can liberate the economic creativity of our people to produce wealth without over-regulation and interference.
The international community can contribute to our success by ensuring that we are treated fairly in the globalisation process:
- they should take genuine action to open their markets to our exports and particularly to our agricultural exports. It has been calculated that free trade could do more for us than all the foreign aid we have received during the past decades – but then on a basis of equality and not of hand-outs;
- the international community can also help us by reducing the enormous foreign debt that many of our countries have accumulated and that now seriously hampers their future growth;
- they should also take steps to ensure that our continent receives a fairer share of global investment and that our currencies are not subjected to predatory international speculation.
However – much as the international community can help – at the end of the day it is we Africans who will have to determine whether or not the 21st century will belong to us. We must develop the confidence, the values and the skills that we will need for this task. We must break away from the victim mentality that has been imposed on us for so long. We must accept that we are in command of our own destiny – and that we can turn our dreams into reality.
These are some of things that we can do to create an environment that will be conducive to the education that our continent so desperately needs.
If we can do these things, the 21st century can belong to us.
The African century will require all the elements that have been spelled out in NEPAD.
- It will require the stability that can only be achieved by the ending of conflicts and the entrenchment of the rule of law and genuine democracy;
- It will require the rapid and sustained economic growth that can be achieved only by the implementation of sound economic policies; and
- It will require a quantum leap in education that will enable us to develop our most important resource – our children.
We must achieve these goals – so that when the 22nd century finally dawns our children will be able to look back and say:
“ yes, this was the century when we Africans took our rightful place in peace, prosperity and equality with all the other peoples of the world!”
 UNESCO, 1997
| Continent-Wide Connectivity Indicators (Aug ’00)
Status report /Overview of connectivity in Africa (Updated Feb ’02)