Schools and their communities to have a say in language policy?

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Sep 1 12:16:53 UTC 2005

>>From the Cape Times,

Schools could be beacons of care if parents have a say

By Van Rooi Khosa

With the Education Laws Amendment Bill currently being debated in
parliament, the arguments around the power allocated to school governing
bodies are resurfacing. It is therefore important to reflect that our
Constitution makes an unequivocal commitment to representative and
participatory democracy, accountability, transparency and public
involvement beyond just elections. It encourages South Africans to shape
their destiny in every sphere of life, including education.

The South African Schools Act (SASA) endeavours to create a new governance
landscape based on citizen participation and partnership between the
state, parents, learners, educators and communities. In essence, it grants
schools and their constituent communities a significant say in
decision-making by devolving power to stakeholders who participate in
democratic governance of schools.

It also stipulates a set of functions for School Governing Bodies (SGBs),
including the determination of admissions and language policy,
recommending teaching and non-teaching appointments, managing finances,
determining school fees and conducting fundraising. However, recognising
that certain sections of SASA have failed to deal with the enormous
challenges our education system is facing, the Department of Education has
instituted a series of review committees aimed at informing a holistic
policy review. The recommendations emerging from these review committees
make a case for the need for policy overhaul.

Media statements by officials in the Department of Education and minister
Naledi Pandor herself over the past few months suggest that the policy
review is being conducted in a piecemeal fashion. The media statements
provide disturbing pointers to serious flaws in the policy review. Pandor,
for instance, was quoted as saying legislation developed in the
post-election period in 1995 gave a great deal of attention to
democratisation as opposed to policies and practices for the promotion of
quality learning and teaching.

Her message and that of others in her department leads one to believe the
department is committed to trimming some of the SGBs' powers. It would
seem that this has in part to do with some SGBs, particularly those in
former Model C schools, acting as if their schools were private schools.
Because of the power wielded by the SGBs and their control over the
employment of teachers, learners may be African but there are no African
teachers. Notwithstanding Pandor's negative comments on the
democratisation of schools, the prevailing power relations at school level
- between the parents' component and the educators' component of SGBs -
are already heavily loaded in favour of school principals. Evidence shows
that school principals continue to wield considerable influence over who
gets elected to the SGB, and who gets recommended for filling vacant

This practice has been disempowering for parents and has flown in the face
of meaningful parental participation in the education of their children.
In many instances, parental involvement has been structured by what
educators and principals view as appropriate within the limits of
supporting the efficient running of schools. Since they are drawing their
mandate from communities which have a fair understanding of existing local
dynamics and developmental needs, SGBs provide a useful mechanism for
sustainable partnerships between schools and communities.

If appropriately empowered, they can be utilised as catalysts for the
promotion of schools as nodes of care and support for vulnerable children.
Potentially, they can lobby for responsive government interventions for
children in dire need of services and for schools to become portals of
service delivery. They can also refer children to appropriate services and
benefits and can ensure optimum utilisation of community resources.

Therefore, capacity development programmes for SGBs need not be limited to
financial management and school-based policy development, as is currently
the case, but should include support measures for children using locally
accessible resources as well as community initiatives such as secondary
agricultural production. Given the complexities of the problems, we don't
believe the solution is increasing the power of school principals.

The problems would be far better addressed if community empowerment
efforts to ensure meaningful and active parental participation in
education were given greater attention and resources. In the light of the
alarming vulnerability of children in the context of poverty, the idea of
promoting schools as nodes of care and support for vulnerable children has
gained considerable currency in different quarters, including government
departments servicing schools and civil society organisations.

This idea is being promoted by Soul City: The Institute for Health and
Development Communication through radio and television vehicles with the
National Association of School Governing Bodies to build their capacity,
and to conscientise the communities about what they can do to support
vulnerable children. Although it may be too early to celebrate victory,
the results have been significant, and will be even greater as Soul City
embarks on a full-scale community dialogue process.

This will enable the communities to articulate creative and sustainable
ways to work with SGBs, thus placing schools at the heart of community

Khosa is the advocacy officer at Soul City: Institute for Health and
Development Communication.

 Published on the web by Cape Times on September 1, 2005.

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list