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While it looks as if the Soweto Marimba Youth League (SMYLe) is “a music project”, it’s actually ALL about Maths!

The kids want to be part of a music programme, particularly because NONE of the 14 feeder schools SMYLe gets its members from have functional music classes, but SMYLe wants the kids to focus on their academic performance: specifically in Maths.

The problem is that South Africa’s government has decided to structure its public education system around an apparent desire to create a generation of academic invalids. With minimum “pass” requirements as low as 20%, the current cohort of high school learners are being horrendously under-served by the government of their parents. The kids didn’t vote for the ANC, they’re parents did (in most respects for all the right reasons). However, it’s the kids who are now being disabled by the product of votes intended to create a transformational government for ALL of South Africa’s citizens.

In recent studies, South Africa’s education system has been proven to be THE least effective in Maths, Literacy and Science…resulting in an emerging workforce that is completely under-skilled for the ever-evolving global work environment. While only expecting students to graduate from high school (i.e., Matric) with 50% in one course, 40% in two courses, and 30% in four courses (including Maths or Maths Literacy), the effective minimum average for graduating high school is only 35.7%. This means that kids emerge from a 13-year academic career without the basic skills they need to not only progress to…and successfully complete…a varsity degree, but to enter into a workforce where companies expect far more than 30% competency.

The kids aren’t being taught to set aggressive goals for themselves, or what it means to work hard in order to achieve their own measure of success. Rather, they’re being taught that “getting by” is “good enough”. This is an outright travesty.

One African proverb states that, “Wise is he who plants a tree never knowing if he’ll survive to enjoy its shade.

Education is a tree not only of enlightenment, but also a critical requirement for anyone seeking to break a potentially endless cycle of poverty, especially in a developing country such as South Africa. Not giving kids access to a proper education borders on a human rights abuse, and effectively banishes ill-educated kids to a life of underemployment, poverty and misery.

SMYLe cannot change this.

SMYLe cannot approach government and attempt to reverse a recent decision to “condone” a student’s promotion from one grade to the next if/when they only get 20% in Maths (currently the case for Grades 8 and 9). Nor can SMYLe convince government to join the rest of the world in expecting its learners to achieve no less than 50% to earn a “pass”. All SMYLe can do is try to support a relatively small group of students in their pursuit of a better life than their families are currently laboured with.

This is why SMYLe merely uses kids’ desire to learn how to play music as the incentive to force the kids to work harder to achieve minimum academic performance that will help them succeed in their future. Again, the kids want the music, SMYLe wants the Maths!

Because there’s a well-researched connection between the ability to learn music and the ability to learn Maths, where success in both subjects is predicated on ‘practice, practice, practice’, SMYLe knows that our learners have the capacity to succeed in Maths. Our kids can play as many as 130 songs off the top of their heads, and can learn and perfect a completely new song in as little as an hour (3 hours for Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train”, which is longer than 5-minute song). Our kids are neither stupid nor lazy. Our kids do not deserve to be told that they’re only smart enough to get 30% in any subject…including Maths. They deserve the right to have someone stand in front of them and challenge them to set aggressive academic goals, and then hold them accountable to the required commitment to work hard enough to achieve those goals.

Yes. SMYLe has amazing performance teams.

Yes. The kids deserve to perform every second weekend to visitors of Nelson Mandela Square (Sandton City, Johannesburg)…if not more frequently at other venues.

Yes. The kids deserve to be rewarded for their hard work and dedication to not only SMYLe, but to their academic success.

This is why the leadership team of SMYLe works so hard to create opportunities for the kids to showcase their talents as far from home as Canada (with a bit of help from generous donors and volunteers).

This is why SMYLe desperately needs to construct its own purpose built ‘SMYLe Centre’, in order to enhance the future success and sustainability of all aspects of our programme: especially our Supplemental Maths Classes!