Soweto class action

2011-04-09 20:34

Education in South Africa’s ­largest township is in crisis: 64 of Soweto’s 80 high schools fared badly in matric exams last year.

Under-performing schools in Soweto far outnumber those in townships with similar socio-economic conditions, such as Sharpeville, Katlehong, Tembisa, Mamelodi, Soshanguve, Daveyton and Evaton.

This has prompted the Gauteng ­education department to host an education summit at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto ­campus to address the “ongoing ­instability and under-performance” at Soweto’s schools.

Professor Graeme Bloch, an ­education specialist at the Wits Graduate School of Public and ­Development Management, welcomed the summit but said it would not solve the township’s “wide-ranging” problems.

Bloch said: “It would, at most, give direction to efforts to remedy the situation.”

He cited ill-disciplined learners, teachers and a lack of facilities at schools as factors that negatively affected education. “There is no ­single remedy for the educational crisis in Soweto,” he said.

Bloch said all role players had to come to the party for the situation to improve.

“Sadtu (the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union) has to prioritise the interests of learners before its own, while learner ­organisations like the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) should act responsibly in whatever they are doing to advance education in the province,” he said.

Bloch said Cosas needed to ­organise and mobilise on a ­massive scale without disrupting education.

“Being radical only is not enough for the challenges that we are faced with,” he said.

He called on parents to encourage responsible behaviour among educators and learners.

Reuben Lechesa, regional secretary of the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB), said the department ­offered little or no support at all to most schools.

Charles Phahlane, Gauteng ­education spokesperson, said the high school improvement ­programme and other interventions were implemented to offer better support to schools.

Lechesa raised non-compliance with laws and departmental ­policies among educators and learners as a key problem.

He said disruption of learning required urgent intervention.

“In most schools in Soweto, ­departmental activities like ­teacher-development workshops, extramural activities, principals’ meetings, actions by students and labour organisations hinder ­education,” Lechesa said.

A 17-year-old Meadowlands Secondary learner said she was worried that their teachers were not ­always focused on their work “and there is nothing we can do as learners”.

She said: “What also gets to us is the fact that our teachers are quick to go on strike, leaving us to fend for ourselves.”

Cosas president Bongani Mani said they were branded as hooligans every time they raised their ­concerns about the state of ­education in Soweto.

He said: “We are worried because the current education crisis is like a time bomb waiting to explode and we need to deal with it.

“Soweto has teachers who are selfish and care only about ­themselves. We still have a ­situation where some teachers are a law unto themselves.
“The problem is, most teachers belong to the same union and tend to abuse the system, knowing they will defend each other.

“Some teachers are not honest and they have utter disregard for the interests of learners. The only time our educators take to the streets and protest is when they want salary increases,” Mani said.

Tshediso Ledimo, Sadtu’s ­Gauteng provincial secretary, pointed to deficiencies in the ­system, including a lack of safety for educators.

He said: “The department is not responsive to the issues facing our schools and that acts as a drawback in achieving better results.

“Our view is to push for a collective responsibility among all role players. We have a situation where even our educators do not feel safe at schools.”

The Gauteng education department launched a secondary school improvement programme aimed at reversing the damage caused by years of neglect in Soweto schools.

The programme is expected to yield improvements in ­matric ­results and the province’s education in general, with the deadline set for 2014.

Soweto drew the world’s ­attention in June 1976 when more than 10 000 students protested against the then government’s policy of enforcing Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in ­township schools.

“Ironically, the same township that led the struggle for equal ­education is still haunted by a ­dysfunctional education system,” Bloch said.

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