/OPINION: The state of education in SA and why more parents are opting for private education

OPINION: The state of education in SA and why more parents are opting for private education

2020-01-07 13:27

The frustration from the educators is that with this many learners, no matter how passionate one is about education, it is impossible to give 100% attention to all learners all the time. The intentions were good, but this model needs to be reviewed as schools are falling apart, writes Makgabo van Niekerk 

The 2019 matric results will be announced on the evening of 7 January 2019.

Majority of South Africans are not excited though. Concerned stakeholders are speaking about the quality of the results. They are questioning the standards at public schools.

This is unfortunate as some learners and educators work hard throughout the year to ensure that they perform well.

At Vulumzi Senior Secondary School in Motherwell, Eastern Cape, matriculants have been camping at school during the duration of the examinations. Mr Fina, the school principal and his educators have over the years sacrificed time with their families to ensure that their school fares well.

In rural Shongweni Dam in Kwazulu-Natal, young unemployed university graduates have decided that they too want to be part of the solution and introduced spring and winter camps for struggling matriculants.

Over school holidays, these graduates teach subjects such as mathematics without compensation from the Department of Basic Education. Surely when these schools’ results are announced, all role players should celebrate.

In the recent past, there has been an increase in the number of parents taking their children to private schools. The business minded have noticed this and are reaping the rewards as parents from all economic backgrounds part with their hard-earned money for what they deem to be a “better quality education”.

Private schools have become a lucrative business in South Africa. The decision is made easier by the conditions in public schools.

With the country’s socio-economic conditions, the idea of no-fee schools is a noble one on paper, but it has dire consequences.

Our schools are overcrowded.

Educators are overwhelmed as some of them have to teach as many as 50 learners in a classroom.

The frustration from the educators is that with this many learners, no matter how passionate one is about education, it is impossible to give 100% attention to all learners all the time. The intentions were good, but this model needs to be reviewed as schools are falling apart. There is no budget to carry out even the most basic maintenance. Our schools are constantly begging as the department doesn’t have the financial resources to assist.

Additionally, we have seen that discipline is a serious issue in government schools. Violence in public schools is out of hand, and educators are powerless to act.

When you read a social media post prematurely announcing the stabbing and death of a learner at a school, your heart races as you wonder if it’s your child being referred to. Learners are stabbing and killing each other, learners are stabbing their educators – it’s a hot mess. Most of the schools are filthy as learners litter without thinking of the consequences.

The big elephant in the room is unions and their role in the deteriorating standards.

In my previous life as an educator, I was intrigued by the number of times SADTU affiliated educators could take off from school to attend union meetings. It was heartbreaking to witness the enthusiasm with which my colleagues in this township school could rush out of class to not miss a meeting leaving children behind.

Having previously taught at the National School of the Arts in Braamfontein for three years prior to that, not once had I heard of an educator having to leave early in order to attend a union meeting.

In Gauteng, the majority of parents are further frustrated as they feel that the online application system is not working.

It’s a nuisance and adds on to their admin. Some parents are infuriated and feel that the ability to decide on their children’s schools is being taken from them. Parents are currently at loggerheads with the department as their children have not been accepted to schools of their choice that are close to their place of residence.

Private schools promise discipline, there are demerits and merits systems and children can be asked and are asked to leave a school if they get enough demerits.

Hard work is encouraged at these schools; a the culture of hard work and reading is nurtured from a young age. At Ashton International College in Benoni, a Grade 1 learner receives no less than 10 books to read a week. So, when most learners in Grade 10 at public schools struggle to read, a 7-year-old at Ashton already reads with understanding.

A collaborative effort is needed if the government wants parents to look at public schools favourably. Parents and communities themselves are going to have to instill discipline in the learners.

There needs to be respect for self and others. Late coming can no longer be tolerated, but then this means that some of these children should not be burdened with raising their siblings and getting them ready for school.

Something’s got to give before it’s too late, before all essential services that the government is supposed to provide for its citizens are privatised. When citizens pay for health care, private security and education amongst others, what then is the role of the government?

– Makgabo van Niekerk is a former educator who writes in her spare time

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