The end of the schooling year is a very stressful time. I'm sure you can relate your own "war stories" but allow me to highlight a few of the ongoing, yearly challenges.
Finding space for Grade 1s.
With the country slowly moving towards universal access to Grade R for Five-year olds, the pressure continues to mount on our primary schools to accommodate the growing numbers of learners requiring access to Grade 1. This should not be a problem given that throughput in primary schools is quite high, but the challenge is that the system is trying very hard to keep the teacher:learner ratio to a maximum of 1:40. Ideally this number should be lower. Couple this to the migration of learners across our metropole and from other provinces and that our existing school buildings are not able to house all our learners adequately, the challenges mount.
The other major headache. At the primary school exit level, i.e. Grade 7, many parents make the conscious decision to move their children to high schools they perceive as being "good" schools. And often these schools are benchmarked as our Ex-Model C schools or schools not located in black townships. And this immediately raises anxiety levels, in parents, learners, principals and officials. Let us not forget NGOs and Civil Society organizations that seize on this issue too.
The legacy challenge.
As fast as new schools are erected, they fill up. Parents in poor areas have developed an aversion for institutions of learning in their respective communities, since the micro-environment of the school often reflects the social challenges of the surrounding community. And parents want there children to break-free of the challenges of living in poor areas. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. The nightmare is that these school buildings must be utilized for schooling. They cannot be shipped out of these areas. Or stand empty whilst other schools buckle under the demand.
So, what do we do?
The perception that schools in disadvantaged areas are useless must be challenged. In fact, we must declare war on it. Yes, a significant number of schools in poor areas can do better, but there are just as many who are doing very well, under difficult conditions. We must highlight all of them, good or bad, and make a concerted effort to raise their profiles and hold them accountable to the communities they serve. Good teaching and learning should not be hamstrung by context. When poor learners enter a community school, there should be no stigma, no predetermined outcome, no expectation of failure or dropout. They should know they will succeed, they will achieve, they will complete their schooling.
Every child seeking access to a school, must know that the school closest to them is a good school, an institution whose sole purpose is to unlock their potential; that the entire business of the school is set up to show love and care, provide safety and support; that they will be enriched and prepared to enter the world-of-work or further study, adequately and holistically ready; that whilst future success cannot be guaranteed, failure can be minimized.
So let us celebrate our schools, wherever they are, that are fulfilling their public service mandate. And tackle those who do not.