Principals thrash out education issues with MEC

2010-05-05 00:00

EDUCATION MEC Senzo Mchunu had nothing but tough love for thousands of the province’s principals who gathered at Maritzburg College’s Alan Paton Hall for a meeting with the premier yesterday to try to find ways to run schools better.

Premier Zweli Mkhize convened the gathering as a follow-up to a meeting in Durban last year held between President Jacob Zuma and principals from schools throughout South Africa to address the challenges that teachers are faced with and to discuss ways to improve the quality of education.

Mchunu said principals are responsible for the performance of their schools, adding: “Good principals can overcome any odds.”

While he applauded the 61% pass rate achieved in 2009, a three-percent increase compared to that of 2008, this year’s results still need to improve dramatically.

“The majority of the schools are good, but … being number six in the country is not good enough. That means we are number three from the bottom,” he said.

The principals, who applauded Mkhize for the initiative and the platform it offered them, came back with guns blazing as they articulated the extent of their frustrations and the lack of capacity to conduct their duties.

Posts remaining unfilled for as long as two years for critical functions such as subject advisers was one of the issues raised.

The state of schools’ infrastructure — the lack of electricity, toilets and classrooms — and the rural allowance being paid to some teachers but not to others were also highlighted.

One principal said it was it was hard to shoot for the stars as Mchunu had suggested when they couldn’t even reach for the roof with the capacity they were given.

“It is important to produce engineers and doctors, but that remains the privilege of city schools because it is hard to attract educators to rural schools,” the principal said.

Other principals expressed frustration at the late allocation of norms and standards financing, which acts as petty cash to help fix minor problems at schools.

Principals at no-fee schools complained that since this money is paid out in May and September, they often have to pay out of their own pockets to fix problems at the beginning of the year.

Some principals complained about what they termed the skewed and unclear categorisation of the quintile system, which can place a school with no proper infrastructure in one of the higher quintiles along with the more affluent.

The quintile system is supposed to be biased towards poorer schools, which get more norms and standards financing.

These poor schools are also supposed to be prioritised in funding of teaching posts and the nutrition programme.

THE KZN Education Department will be taking greater control of certain functions delegated to schools that manage their own finances.

The department’s superintendent-general, Cassius Lubisi, said an internal audit shows that a very high percentage of schools that have been delegated the power to buy their own textbooks have been misusing the money.

The issue of full section 21 status, which allows schools to manage their own finances, was one of the concerns raised by the province’s principals in a meeting with Premier Zweli Mkhize and Education MEC Senzo Mchunu.

One principal, unhappy about schools not being allocated the full section 21 status, jokingly threatened to go on strike over the issue.

He said the department took the position not to delegate the purchase of textbooks after an investigation showed “shocking figures” of schools not using the entire 60% of funding ring-fenced for textbooks.

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