English: A sought-after commodity
Year after year, graduates from English speaking nations across the globe are lured to far flung Eastern and Middle Eastern locales. On offer: approximately R25 000 a month, including ( in some cases) flights and accommodation. In return, the successful applicants are required to teach young children, teenagers, as well as adults, the English language.
Quite literally, the sky’s the limit when it comes to the earning capacity of the native English speaker, because the English language is prized, appreciated and held as a key component to professional success the world over.
Currently, the South African education system is under intense and deserved scrutiny. Along with many other government-controlled sectors, it is in crisis. This could not be more evident than when interacting with second language English speakers. People in China, Japan and Saudi Arabia are more articulate – in some cases most have had no exposure to English till their teens or even adulthood.
South Africa’s primary language of communication is English and tragically many, if not most, South Africans cannot express themselves adequately. Even Zimbabwean Nationals – who have fled persecution and limited economic prospects – have a better grasp of the language. If a mad-man dictator with an appalling human rights record can manage to educate his masses, why cant we? Surely this is a travesty?
Being unable to express oneself can have a ripple effect into all aspects of life. For example, most doctors in South Africa use English as their primary mode of communication. Thus a patient who cannot understand their dosage instructions – or even what their exact health status is – is at risk of irreparable physical damage, if not death.
Many South Africans find their earning power affected as most jobs require an adequate, if not superior, grasp of English. The result being many employment opportunities are given to those who can speak English – like Zimbabweans. As we have seen, this often leads to social ills characterised by resentment and xenophobia.
The average South African has been given a massive advantage by being born and educated in an English speaking nation. Yet very few get to reap the rewards of such an advantage. The notion that since 1994 only a small minority has benefited financially from initiatives like BEE can possibly be based on that fact – that only a small minority has a good, if not superior, grasp of English. If one is fairly erudite, possibly well connected and educated, and can string an English sentence together, one can become a 50% share-holder in whatever business is lacking BEE points. Very often the only difference between this new share holder and the person cleaning your house is their ability to communicate.
The state of our government education is depressing. It should not be in the state that it’s in, but due to reasons far too numerous to address in a concluding paragraph, it is. We can institute as many National Health initiatives as we want- but if patients cannot communicate, what use is it? One might say that with better salaries nurses will be more compelled to explain complex medical terms or even dosage instructions to patients, but even then there is no guarantee. In light of this, perhaps the government needs to reassess the order of sector overhauls – and education should be first.