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South Africa: Stop students’ exodus from public schools!

South African education unions demand government measures to counter the trend of students leaving public schools to join private schools.

An increasing number of parents in the Eastern Cape Province are opting to send their children to private schools despite the cost. The quality of these private schools varies, but in the Gauteng province alone, South Africa’s economic hub, more than 100 new schools have applied for registration in the past year, BBC reported recently.

Eastern Cape education in crisis

The growth of private primary schools, in response to a lack of faith in the state sector, is a trend that is spreading across the country, the independent sector growing by 75% in the past decade.

Education in the Eastern Cape is in crisis, and the central government has taken over the running of the education department after allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

The government itself admitted 80% of state schools are failing. Basic Education Minister Angie Motsheka recently said 1,700 schools are still without a water supply and 15,000 schools are without libraries.

This explains why Equal Education, a movement of learners, parents, teachers and community members working for quality and equality in South African education, launched a court case to force the government to provide equal infrastructure at all schools.

Severe problems for public education at national level

Henry Hendricks, the Executive Director of one of EI’s national affiliates, National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (NAPTOSA), commented: “The situation in the Eastern Cape is particularly disturbing. However, there are serious problems throughout the country.

“The Department of Basic Education inherited from the apartheid era, amongst many other issues, poor infrastructure in many thousands of schools. The government has made much progress since 1994, but clearly not enough. This is the reason why Equal Education is taking the Minister of Basic Education to court over her failure to provide adequate facilities for all schools.”

He went on to say, “The BBC report is correct when it says that the number of low-cost independent schools is increasing. In 2011, 3.9% of all learners were in independent schools compared to 2% in 2001. There are a number of reasons for this growth in independent schools – parents who are dissatisfied with the state system, increased wealth of some parents, greater mobility of parents and learners, lack of accommodation in schools in specific localities.”

However, there are thousands of hard-working teachers doing excellent work, he said. There are schools that excel despite the lack of resources. There are suburban, township and rural schools that function well and have the support of their parent communities.

Quality public education is governmental responsibility

Chris Klopper, the Chief Executive Officer of another EI’s national affiliates, Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie (SAOU), stated: “A number of factors impact the delivery of education and force parents away from public schools. One example is that the Eastern Cape Department of Education is currently under administration and there are more than 800 temporary teaching posts not filled. This kind of situation creates extremely negative perceptions among parents.”

The trade union also highlighted that education success lies not with facilities but rather in dedication. ”The SAOU implores education authorities to get the education house in order to prevent a further exodus from public schools,” A union spokesperson said.

EI strongly supports its affiliates in South Africa in their struggle to ensure that the funding of public education remains the responsibility of their government, and that any form of public-private partnerships or multi-stakeholder partnerships in education does not take over that responsibility.

EI Resolution supports sustained public funding for education

The Resolution on the Sustained Funding of Public Education in the midst of the Economic Crisis, adopted at EI 6th World Congress held in Cape Town, South Africa, in July 2011, further affirms that “free, universal and public education provides equal education opportunities for all, is a crucial underpinning of democracy in societies, and is a key factor enabling individuals and communities to break out of cycles of poverty.”

This policy document also acknowledges that “publicly funded, autonomous and democratically accountable education is part of the long-term solution to any economic downturn, as an effective and well-funded education system ensures the future success, well-being and employability of the next generation”.

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