“For the first time in South Africa’s history, a government has the mandate to plan the development of the education and training system for the benefit of the country as a whole and all its people. The challenge the government faces is to create a system that will fulfil the vision to “open the doors of learning and culture to all”. The paramount task is to build a just and equitable system which provides good quality education and training to learners young and old throughout the country.”
This is the vision articulated in White Paper One on Education and Training (1995), a document formulated in the wake of South Africa’s new democracy and a document on which the South African School Act (Act No. 84 of 1996), is based. It is a vision of schooling system that works for all South Africans and not just the few who enjoy race or class-based privilege.
The ANC, together with the support of the broader liberation movement in South Africa had managed to deracialise the schooling system. But would removing the language of race from policy documents be sufficient to desegregate South African schools? 24 years after democracy, our schools remain segregated along lines of both race and class. There have been some limited victories in desegregating the former model-C schools but such schools remain homogeneous in terms of class and allow only exceptional Black and Coloured students from poor households access via academic, sporting or cultural scholarship progammes (You have to be remarkable if you’re Black). More pertinently, the township schools are still a reality and the township, along with all the typical features of a marginalised community still exist today.
Bottomup’s interest in parent education is to explore how parents feel about the kind of schooling their children receive on the Cape Flats, to find out how much knowledge they have of policies that affect their children’s schools but ultimately to also equip parents with knowledge to push back against educational injustices.
In the past week we hosted our first parent breakfast for 2018. Parents showed up (counter to the popular beliefs that parents in marginalised communities do not care). We opened up the event with a “Fact or Fake” quiz game that explored various aspects of the South African Schools Act and other laws pertaining school governance, funding and teacher conduct. What became apparent in the meeting was that parents did not have access to the very important knowledge concerning schooling in South Africa and were surprised to learn how our funding system works (how inequitable it really is) or even surprised to learn that schools are not allowed to withhold student report cards (something many parents had experienced).
The concerns raised by parents included:
- The withholding of report cards because of unpaid fees (micro)
- Difficulty finding placement in a school for other children (meso)
- Lack of responsiveness on behalf of district officials when parents raised concerns at the district office. (meso)
- Corporal punishment or rough handling of students by teachers (micro)
- Bullying on school (micro)
- Schools locking gates and not allowing late arriving students to enter the grounds immediately(micro) [parents also believed it was okay for a student to arrive late if there was gang violence in the area that prevented them from walking to school]
Many of the concerns raised are problems which can be resolved at the level of the school and thus implicate schools in the injustice toward students. Such matters are meant to resolved through SGBs but parents indicated that many SGBs do not function as the democratic representative bodies that the policy envisions. Parent sentiments about SGB functionality seem to agree with research on SGBs in South Africa post-1994 (Lewis & Naidoo, 2004; Karlsson, 2002; Mncube, 2008)
It is interesting to note that not very many concerns of parents dealt with macro-level or policy factors which serve to produce negative conditions on schools (resource distribution, infrastructure, etc.). This may be because many parents are not aware of the policies or how they interact with the micro-level factors on schools. This is not knowledge that parents can be expected to know intuitively and some effort will need to be made to ensure that such information is more easily accessible where internet accessibility, data costs and the inadequately resourced libraries make it harder for parents to access valuable information.
If we are to realise the vision for just and equitable schools in South Africa, genuine parent engagement that encourages critical dialogue and deals seriously with violence and injustice toward students at every level of the system, micro (school environment that produce student disengagement) , meso (lack of district-level support) and macro (unhelpful policy frameworks). At Bottomup, we believe this can begin with creating spaces for true dialogue and we hope that by organising more events like our parent breakfast that we can build and nurture communities that are ready to stand up and act against educational injustice.
Karlsson J 2002. The Role of Democratic Governing Bodies in South African Schools. Comparative Education, 38, p.327-336.
Lewis, S.G. & Naidoo, J. 2004. Whose Theory of Participation? School Governance Policy and Practice in South Africa. Current Issues in Comparative Education, 6(2), p.100-113
Mncube, 2008. Democratisation of education in South Africa: issues of social justice and the voice of learners? South African Journal of Education, 28, p.77-90
Also published on Medium.