Competition for schools has parents at wits’ ends

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THERE is a joke going around in the human rights legal fraternity that much of its litigation against the Department of Basic Education is akin to taking the Post Office to court to get stamps. That is how pedantic the struggle for improving education for the majority children in SA has become.

Take the recent example of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) finally getting the provincial and national departments to pay R28m they owed to teachers. According to an LRC press release on September 30, it took the attachment of department goods worth R1.92m, including more than "800 computers and seven departmental vehicles, including a Ford Ranger, Ford Focus, a Range Rover, a Toyota Corolla, two Audis and a Mercedes-Benz, some of which are believed to be the vehicles used by the minister and her director-general at the offices of the minister of education".

Last year, the LRC sued the department for not providing furniture to several rural Eastern Cape schools. While the human rights lawyers have had to crack jokes to deal with the absurdity of getting a court order to secure desks and chairs, the corrosive effect of the department’s inability to pay on time puts all schools, especially poor ones, in precarious positions. This forces parents to seek placement for their children in a few well-managed schools.

This kind of systemic neglect by the department is no longer surprising. Somehow, providing education is becoming incidental to what the department does. This is because so much energy and thought that should go into radically fixing the system is diverted into the politics of managing the tripartite alliance — protecting a confluence of interests arising in the alliance between the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the African National Congress. A colleague in education has gone so far as to argue that teaching, as an aspect of public service, has virtually become a system of patronage in which a powerful union trades 256,000 votes in exchange for nearly unconditional protection of its members’ jobs, as well as access to different career opportunities within the state.

This past week, top government officials made speeches at Sadtu’s eighth national congress, including Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga and Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, who virtually gave the union a giant pat on the back for its role in delivering education, even though it is self-evident that the system consistently undereducates millions of children year after year.

In her own defence, Motshekga has often argued that the system is not "in crisis". She reminds us that there are 24,000 schools under her watch and it is true that the majority of them open every day and have some semblance of order. For Motshekga, the system is on the mend and the steadily rising matric pass rates — from about 60% in the mid-2000s to 78% — appear to confirm this.

And yet, while Motshekga and other bigwigs were making self-congratulatory speeches at the Sadtu congress, this month was a reality check for parents who are facing intense competition to place their children in good-quality former "Model C" schools.

In my little locale of Grahamstown, a letter appeared in our town’s newspaper from a frustrated parent who cannot get her child into a "good school". In the letter, the parent said: "Every school rejected me, so what I wanted to know is, where to now? How many people are struggling just to get their child into a decent former Model C school? What about my innocent child that must get an education in this country but can’t be accepted at any preschool as they are either full or place him on a waiting list? This is so unfair to me and my son. Tell me, Department of Education, what should I do now?"

Invariably, former Model C schools have no choice because many have reached their space limits. And, indeed, we will not put our children into the dysfunctional schools for the sake of political correctness. With a sense of resignation, then, I must echo other Grahamstown parents and ask Motshekga: What are we to do?

Article by: Nomalanga Mkhize.
Article Source: Business Day Live