SA's Schools Are A Mess. And It's Time We Did Something About It - Huffpost

28 May 2018 - Why we have launched an Education Charter: here are five reasons why parents and communities need more control over what is happening in their schools.

Sara Gon

South Africa's deeply deficient education system is stunting the prospects of our children, and it's time we did something about it. Here are five reasons why parents and communities need more control over what is happening in their schools.

1. Schools are financed with their resources

Schools and the tax that is used to finance them do not belong to the state. Both resources belong to South Africans, and they should have greater control over how those resources are spent and managed. In 2016, the government spent about R16,000 on each pupil, nearly R200-billion in total. As a share of GDP and on a per-pupil basis, this is competitive with a range of other emerging markets.

There are 12.3-million pupils at government schools in South Africa which, for the most part, have a sound physical infrastructure and a 32:1 pupil-to-teacher ratio that is not far off global norms. South Africa therefore does not have a serious resource constraint when it comes to providing a world-class education. Yet the resources we have are not well spent and are often wasted.

2. Schools are performing poorly

Data from the department of basic education shows that only a small proportion of pupils who enrol in Grade 1 will graduate with a bachelor's pass in matric. In 2016, only 13 percent of pupils who wrote maths in matric achieved a grade of 60 percent or higher. While the physical infrastructure of most schools is fairly solid, in 2017 only 17 percent of schools had a library with books in them, and only 18 percent had a laboratory.

These figures are appalling, when considering the resources that are invested in education. But it gets worse: global studies show that only about 20 percent of our Grade 4 learners are literate, with eight in ten being unable to read for meaning (or being effectively illiterate).

When a community controls a school and is proud of it, they will look after the infrastructure, contribute to its upkeep, and insist on high standards from teachers and officials.

3. When parents and communities are involved results improve

Research we have conducted (see links here and here and here) shows that when parents are involved in the education of their children, results improve. This makes sense for many reasons. Parents and caregivers will care more about their children than politicians and the government will. When a community controls a school and is proud of it, they will look after the infrastructure, contribute to its upkeep, and insist on high standards from teachers and officials.

Yet such control is a privilege afforded mainly to richer people, who enrol their children in private schools and the few excellent government schools. Some analysts say that poor communities should not be given the same responsibilities, as they are not educated enough to make decisions about their children, but we think this is racist and offensive, and that poor people will care just as much about their children as rich people will. They may be even more invested in their schools, given the importance of education in helping their children escape a life of poverty.

Members of school governing bodies (SGBs) do not have to be lawyers or accountants to be effective. Nevertheless, in some communities, there may be issues around capacity, but this should not be a reason to prevent people from becoming involved. Where necessary, either the government or civil society groups could help build capacity, especially around financial and legal matters.

4. Government policy is moving in the wrong direction

But the government denies poor and many black people sufficient decision-making power and responsibility for what happens in schools in poor communities. The rights of SGBs have steadily been eroded. Proposed changes to the South African Schools Act will worsen the position of parents and communities by weakening SGBs — reducing their say over teacher appointments and student admissions.

5. Young people are the future, and we dare not leave that to politicians

Today, an estimated 52 percent of young people (between 15 and 24) are unemployed. Our research shows a high correlation between levels of education and levels of economic inclusion in South Africa's economy. If parents and communities don't take action, South Africa will continue to produce generation after generation of poorly educated young people, and this will see the country continue to replicate patterns of poverty and inequality.

This is already putting all our futures at risk. Part of the solution is giving greater control of what happens in schools to parents and communities, which is the thrust of the IRR's Education Charter, launched last week.

Sara Gon is a policy fellow at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR)

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