Different education models a matter of urgency

2012-04-07 00:00

SOUTH Africa needs to look at alternative educational models as a matter of urgency in order to improve its schools.

According to education experts attending a congress on basic education in Durban, the minority of successful schools are not the “ordinary” schools.

The “ordinary” schools are the majority of black rural and other schools where a serious shortage of resources, poverty, bad teaching, too few teachers, disease, Aids, hunger, child abuse, unemployed parents, and children heading up households are the norm.

According to Bruce Damons, principal of Sapphire Road Primary School in the Eastern Cape, schools have to deal with growing inequality and social needs and distress every day.

He believes we have to strive for “community schools” instead, where schools eventually become centres that impact entire communities.

“In a school like Sapphire we have to overcome many obstacles other than just academic performance.

“Eighty percent of our parents are unemployed, and the community is plagued by abject poverty and many evils, but this school was turned around when it started tackling these problems as well.”

There are now 75 parents who assist with all kinds of maintenance, former gang leaders have been trained by a security company and now guard the school, a clinic has been started on the school property, and mothers are running the feeding scheme.

“We could have sat and complained and waited for the government and the president. But we did not do that, and now we are bringing about big changes in our community.”

Damons said it is a mistake to ignore schools’ social contexts.

“Whereas other schools can charge school fees and maintain themselves, our wealth lies in the value of our relationships with the community and how we can carry one another.”

Phumzile Langa, principal of Khanyisa Secondary School in KwaZulu-Natal, took over the school in 2008 when its matric pass rate was 12%.

She said rural schools are reeling under problems like unemployment, poverty, too few teachers, and no libraries and laboratories.

She added that these schools cannot be judged on academic performance only. “Our children’s daily struggle is for survival and to keep up hope.”

“Here you can progress only if you fully understand the community and your teaching methods are sensitive to the children’s circumstances.”

University of Cape Town education expert Professor Pam Christie said rural schools are totally dependent on partnerships with the private sector and non-governmental organisations.

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