Faith Daniels

The day Education got an F

2016-04-20 08:43

Faith Daniels

As I'm writing this I'm watching Twitter lose its mind over the school admissions chaos in Gauteng. I suspect the hashtag #Admissions2017 is not going away any time soon.

Gauteng education authorities were due to launch a website on Tuesday morning that would help parents register their children for grades one and eight in 2017.

The system was aimed at preventing the backlogs of previous years, which left thousands of learners stranded due to the clamour for vacancies in Gauteng schools.

Well, that was the plan. The 8am deadline was missed. Officials said it would be back online in two hours. Let's just say it's way past 10.

A week ago the first cracks started showing. Then authorities knew that they have a potential crisis on their hands. They did the right thing and postponed activities in a bid to sort out the gremlins and ensure that the system could deal with the high volumes of parents logging on and seeking space for their grade ones and eights.

It was an ambitious task to take on from the get-go, to say the least. The Gauteng education department, in its quest to make things easier for parents in a province that historically struggles to accommodate learners, actually made things more difficult. And of course it's not a process anyone wants to be stuck with. At the moment it's ugly, it's messy.

And, as we do, parents took to social media to vent. Frustration and anger were clear in messages to the department, the MEC and government as it screamed out on Twitter, "This is a disaster," "Maybe the clock is broken at GDE, guys it's 11:35," and "Surely they should call this off for today... This is what happens when you wake up one morning and decide to change things without proper planning." So, epic fail.

But here's where I stop lashing this department. Because in fact, in my view, it's one of a few departments visibly trying to bring about change. And, sure, it's not always smooth sailing and you might not always agree with their approach. But the one thing MEC Panyaza Lesufi gets is that education WILL have to change in Gauteng – and soon.

The time for lengthy debates and discussions has come and gone. The gap between the rich and poor is nowhere near being addressed in our schools. So that means bold steps will have to be taken to push the province into a new era of truly providing quality education for all.

This involves taking the leap of providing paperless classrooms in the poorest areas and rolling it out to other schools. Because, if you don't start now, you run the risk of scores of children simply being left behind and never knowing how to use and access technology. And when the devices are stolen you learn that better security is needed, that you might have been too hasty with getting kids online. Yes, it means you try and fail and try again. And, in the case of online registrations, try once more until you get things right. After that  you stick around and tell parents what is happening.

Lesufi has spent a good few hours on his Twitter timeline – answering questions from parents and apologising for the mess. He's also taking on advice from people who have told him to try a different way of doing things.

Consider this for one moment – it's an election year and every politician wants to be seen as delivering the goods. But I will venture to say that Lesufi has never needed such an occasion.

One only has to look at his track record – the years spent building a career in government and education. Few spokespeople have ever been as helpful. And few MECs have been so forthcoming – even when the truth hurts. That's the calibre of leadership we need. The kind of leadership that steps forward when the chips are down.

- Faith Daniels is a seasoned radio and TV journalist, and is currently head of news at Kagiso Media’s Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.


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