The Unshod Child

I grew up in colonial Rhodesia.

While still very young, I noticed that African children generally walked barefoot, while I did not, and that their little feet were rough and calloused. It was through this simple indicator that I first became aware of dire poverty.

As an adult, I use this image of the unshod child as a yard-stick for measuring whether the basic needs of childhood are properly addressed.

These are not simply the needs for shoes and clothing, but also for nutrition, health and education.

“If the child is unshod
and dressed in rags

If the child is hungry
and left to scavenge

If the child is abandoned
to shelter wherever

If the child falls ill
but is uncared for

Then Government is failing

If the child’s sense of wonder
is not nurtured

If a love of earth and life
are not awakened

If story books
are lacking

If the school room
is a dark hollow place
that does not inspire learning

Then Government is failing”


The South African Department of Education is proposing to do away with the national catalogue of eight books per subject per grade and to approve only one book, per subject per grade.

Perhaps, before such a restrictive “dumbing down” policy is approved, we should reflect on the “shoes” that all children need in order to walk competently through life.

These “shoes” are a diverse, broad and enriching education, one which makes children ever curious; that does not prevent the development of critical understanding; and that does not deny access to the wealth of knowledge that rightfully belongs to everyone.

If this proposed policy is put in place, then children will be failed, they will be robbed of a future. They will walk unshod.


See William Barker’s excellent: Don’t dumb down teaching. Cape Times 13 November 2014


Mail & Guardian:

Kate McCallum:

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