“It’s pay back time.” Kelly Rosenthal of Equal Education explains why she does what she does

Posted on August 16, 2011


“It’s pay back time.” Kelly Rosenthal of Equal Education speaks about why she does what she does…

( written 2010)

I arrived at 6 Spin Street at 11:10am as we had agreed. Kelly Rosenthal swishes across the checked floor interior of the café muttering something about being with me in a moment. I wait in the clean, quiet, calm, open space and very soon we are both seated at the long table dead centre of the room.‘Equal Education is a movement which I’m very proud to work for, I really am.’
Kelly Rosenthal’s red curls bounce as she talks in breathless excited tones that give away her young age. At times she giggles, although her eyes are bright with a serious enthusiasm. She has been working in the civil society industry for the last 7 years and is the kind of girl who gets straight to the point without batting an eyelid.

‘I feel quite strongly that white South Africans, no matter who they were, benefited from the apartheid.

So now we have a debt to this country.’

Kelly went to a private all-girls school and was involved in politics and social movements while she was studying at UCT.
She gained her Masters in African Studies at Oxford University recently. Having lived in Oxford for the last five years, Kelly explains how she felt conflicted about going to study there.
‘I felt like a sell-out, like I had abandoned an important part of my life here.’On retrospect she views that time as a very valuable experience. ‘I loved living there, Oxford is beautiful, but I’m very glad that I’m back.’
This year Kelly is busy working on her PhD in Anthropology and History through Oxford but is based here in Cape Town, where she is doing her fieldwork with the organisation Equal Education (EE).
“What’s amazing about EE is that it’s mobilised thousands of school kids around their right to basic education, which I believe to be hugely important and powerful,” she trills, red curls dancing.
EE is a research driven, community and membership-based organisation advocating for quality and equality in the South African education system. It engages in evidence-based activism and works together with communities, schools, teachers and principals, learners, parents, academics, researchers, religious leaders, community members and the government, to try to equalise education across South Africa.

Scholars celebrate Equal Education’s 3rd anniversary 

Kelly was actually about to go to Canada but then found out about EE through her colleagues while she was doing fieldwork in Khayelitsha. “I saw they were advertising for someone to take this job. It seemed like a very exciting opportunity.”
At EE Kelly runs the gap year program which is made up of 11 of most promising matriculated ‘Equalisers’, – EE high school members who facilitate politically empowering youth groups.
This year-long program has been created in the hope that it will be able to push educational standards up to give these kids a better chance at tertiary education opportunities.
“The state of education being what it is in Khayelitsha– which is appalling- means that despite the fact that these kids are very bright and extremely committed their marks are not competitive enough for them to go to most colleges.”
Four days a week from 8am-5pm these young adults come into the office on 6 Spin Street and are taught by teachers with a wide range of qualifications and experience; from professional lecturers volunteering their time to some trainee teachers, university students and paid tutors.
‘But all put in way more time than get paid for,’ Kelly adds gravely. ‘We are attempting to address a 12-year deficient in education!”
Kelly claims this ‘deficient’ is a result of the failure of government to provide proper education.
‘These kids are the victims of a serious crisis in education – they face some huge challenges armed with very little support. I have a huge amount of respect for them…”

Besides these challenges she describes the work she does as ‘amazing’ and has nothing but praise for her students. Kelly agrees with my observation that what she does is a lot of hard work, but insists proudly; ‘I want to be here (in South Africa), to be working here.

‘I think a lot of young white South Africans feel unwelcome and like there is not a lot that they can do.

This needs to change.”


Check out Equal Education: http://www.equaleducation.org.za/

Check Kelly’s articles on what she’s about: http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-09-13-apartheid-replaced-with-apathy

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