Teen Perspective, Understandable Choices

“Life was hard, school was hard, I just wanted to give up….” 

Nompumelelo shared this with me looking back on her 12th grade, the year before she passed her matric exam.  “But my mentor wouldn’t let me.   She pushed me.  She made me study.  She told me I could do it.  And I did.  You know what, it was the first time ever that I realized if I worked very hard, harder than I knew I could, that I could achieve a goal.”

So what if a teenager grows up without ever tasting the sweet success of obtaining a hard fought goal?

Last week in South Africa, the Mail & Guardian published an article detailing that the average performance of grade 9 students tested in mathematics had dropped again, to 10.8%.  That’s right, slightly more than 1 in 10 students passed their grade 9 maths test.  Failing maths in 9th grade does not bode well for student success on the matric exam three years later.  Without math, the careers a student can aspire to are very limited –

no science,

no finance,

no medicine,

no business,

no technology,

no to a lot of dreams.

What does life look like from the view point of a 15 year old growing up in South African township or a rural community?

If local schools can’t prepare me for any opportunities, not a single one, then why should I spend my time there – I’m hungry and so are my siblings, isn’t it more important to figure out what we will eat today? 

Sure, so what if the most successful people I know are criminals.  It looks like a good life.  Why shouldn’t I have a more comfortable life too?

What do you care anyway?

Between 10th and 12th grade, half of South Africa’s students will drop out.  From their point of view, living takes place day to day.  Decisions are short-term, often made for right now, not next week, not next year.

Sadly, having someone who cares is often all it takes to inspire a teen to care about their future,

to stay in school,

to invest in themselves,

to learn new skills,

to think about the long-term impact of their decisions.

When our actions don’t demonstrate that we care, why are we shocked and surprised with their choices?