South Africa: Opening of Schools 2008

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Jan 24 14:20:25 UTC 2008

Opening of Schools 2008

BuaNews (Tshwane)

23 January 2008
Posted to the web 23 January 2008

The Department of Education has closely monitored the opening of
schools at the beginning of this year. While it is clear that there
are isolated issues and problems that need to be addressed, we can
conclude that the system as a whole has dramatically improved in its
ability to start the school year. Each year over 12 million children
enrol in our public schools, with 1 million of them new entrants into
Grade R or Grade 1 classrooms. The complex logistics required for this
are by and large attended to, and the vast majority of these learners
returned to schools to find classes allocated, timetables ready,
textbooks and stationery delivered, and teachers ready to teach.

Recalling the tendency a few years ago for schools to take up to 2
weeks to commence teaching, this is a major achievement which must not
be under-estimated. Our task now is more to ensure that this promising
start is converted into 200 days of uninterrupted teaching and
learning through the year, and improved learning outcomes.

The following issues were encountered in our monitoring visits to
schools, especially where these were unscheduled or surprise visits.
Some of them were common to many schools, and need a systemic

The most obvious aspect of all our visits is that schools with good
leaders tend to be successful schools. On entering a school, the
quality of leadership is immediately evident in the appearance of the
school, the disposition and attire of the children (and the extent of
late-coming), and the organisation of the teachers. Good schools know
what they are doing and their work is purposeful; under-performing
schools are often a chaotic muddle, with no co-ordination or

Teacher commitment and professionalism is a related issue, with a huge
impact on the effectiveness of schools. Sadly, too many teachers we
encountered were dressed in a way that did not engender respect from
learners or parents. Ironically, learners were often far better
dressed than teachers, with neat blazers and ties, while teachers in
some schools appeared in T-shirts, tracksuits and scruffy jeans.

Teachers need to accept that this impacts upon their status and image
in the community. and take responsibility for how they are perceived.
And those teachers arriving late on the first day of school simply do
not belong in an education system striving for quality.

Parent involvement is also a critical factor. In many schools we found
members of the School Governing Body in attendance, not interfering,
but talking to new parents, and generally assisting the principal and

In other schools, parents were evident cleaning the school and its
grounds, cutting the grass, and manning the gate to ensure controlled
access. These schools tend to work better than those where the parents
are invisible, or where they are trying to run the school.

One area where parents can assist is in the early registration of
their children. Too many schools are distracted at the opening y
queues of parents waiting to register their children. With the
introduction of no-fee schools the excuse that they were "waiting for
money" is no longer valid, and parents must meet their
responsibilities on this matter. We do know that parents are looking
for quality schools, which is a good thing, to be encouraged.

However if they make application to their "first choice" school, they
may only find out in January that they have not been successful, and
are hence forced into "shopping around" for second and third choice
schools at the start of the year. This is where the queues of parents
arise, that give the false impression of over-crowded schools.

Such a situation should be avoided, and even where an application is
made, parents should ensure they have a backup plan in case they
cannot be admitted to their first choice school. It should be noted
that some under-performing schools, which are not popular, have landed
up with very low enrolments for the year.

This should be a warning to teachers, since it is likely that some
will be redeployed to other schools as a result. Job security can not
be guaranteed if there are no children in the school to teach!

The problems of textbook and stationery delivery are long-standing and
complex in nature. We have seen vast improvements from the days in
which books were delivered as late as July, but we must ask why it is
that when every year the Department spends up to R3 billion on
learning materials, we still find learners without books.

This is unacceptable, and we will be looking o a much more centralised
system to ensure every child has the necessary textbooks on his or her
desk. At the same time, every school should by now have built up a
substantial stock of textbooks from previous years, and no teacher
should be able to say they cannot start teaching because books have
not been delivered.

In too many schools there are store-rooms piled high with boxes of
unused books - this is a waste of valuable resources and should not be
allowed. As far as possible, all books should be issued to learners,
who should take responsibility for their care through the year, before
returning them at the end.

Language choice also complicates the enrolment of learners at the
beginning of the year. The law is clear on this: wherever possible
every child should be offered instruction in their choice of language.
No school can refuse a learner because of language choice, and schools
like Ermelo Hoƫrskool which are trying to use language as a means to
exclude children is morally reprehensible.

This school has in the past accommodated over 1 000 children; but
suddenly when black children, who request English as the medium of
instruction, apply for admission, the school says it is full with its
current 500 learners. In doing so its does the Afrikaans language and
its community a severe dis-service, and undermines the genuine appeals
by other Afrikaners for parents to send their children to Afrikaans

The fact is that any school which is full will never be told to admit
more learners or to change their language policy - there is ample
evidence of this across the country. But we cannot allow half-empty
schools in our country, based on racial and linguistic exclusions.

In this regard we must also emphasis that the educational benefits of
home language tuition, especially in the early years. Parents are
strongly encouraged to insist upon home language tuition for at least
the first three years, with a gradual transition to another language

A final comment needs to be made about the special schools in the
Eastern Cape. Media reports have been very misleading, suggesting that
the future status of such schools was in jeopardy. However the schools
in question are no special schools.

They are schools that enjoy the privilege of subsidies substantially
higher than those of ordinary schools, even though many of the
children attending have only mild disabilities or learning problems,
and could be accommodated in ordinary "full-service" schools. The
Department has developed a Screening Tool for admission to special
schools, and the Eastern Cape will be using this to ensure that the
most deserving learners benefit from these specially resourced

Our visits to schools have confirmed that the education system is
indeed stabilising, and that the situation in most schools is
improving. In 2008, we had no learners under trees, and despite
alarmist predictions by unions, we had no class without a teacher.

The condition of our schools in undoubtedly better (although still far
from ideal); the vast majority of teachers and learners are in class
from day 1, and even services like the School Nutrition programme are
being provided. The patterns we observed tend to reflect the overall
matric results, where two-thirds of our children passed, and one-third

We can correlate this to the fact that about one-third of schools are
in a poor condition, about one-third are under-performing, and about
one-third of teachers and learners are not doing what they should. Our
role in monitoring these schools is to ensure that we recognise and
reward the 18 000 schools across the country which are successful, and
that we work with the 9 000 which are under-performing, to ensure that
they improve.

The Department of Education is committed to quality education for all;
our appeal is for communities to join us in ensuring that the basics
are in place.

These include teachers and learners being on time and prepared, that
schools function for 200 days a year, that there are adequate
resources for teaching, and that teachers and learners are regularly
evaluated to ensure we monitor performance and progress. Our future is
in our hands - we cannot let it slip through our fingers!

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