Georgina Guedes

The fear of the first day of school

2016-01-15 09:19

Georgina Guedes

On Wednesday, I bundled my daughter into her Grade 1 uniform (new everything), and took her to school for her first day of formal education. She was excited to be back with all her friends from Grade R, and had met her teacher last year, so her arrival was a positive experience.

It’s a nice feeling, dropping your child off at school and knowing that they are going to get a good education in a positive learning environment with functioning resources. The computer teacher was there to take delivery of the compulsory iPads (which we had to buy), her classroom is bright and filled with learning materials and the grounds are well maintained and clean.

While there is always a slight tremor of anxiety for me as I release my daughter into the care of other people and wonder what the year might hold, I am fairly confident that all the right pieces are in place to make her year a good one and to bring out the best in her.

Most of this is achieved because although my daughter is at a government school, it is a fee-paying school, which makes all the difference.

All schools are not created equal

So, I skipped home from my daughter’s first day feeling happy about myself and about her prospects. At the same time, I am aware that all around the country, there are mothers and fathers dropping their children off for the first time, with no conviction that any good will come of it at all.

For instance, a story did the rounds yesterday about students starting their first day at school at Ormonde Primary, who were given a letter on arrival stating the following:

“Due to the fact that the school has no municipal water connection and no toilets, it is the decision of the governing body to close the school at 10am today and (13 January 2016) and then keep the school closed until the 25th of January 2016.”

And so, home they all toddled.  

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi has ordered the school to reopen today, but presented no solution to the fact that 700 enrolled students are expected to use 20 portable toilets that aren’t really in working condition.

Much of the resulting discussion centred around whether or not the school governing body has the authority to close the school, rather than addressing the real problem that requires a solution so that students can get on with their learning.

And I am sure that this is one of many, many stories around the country that aren’t getting told about under-resourced, unsupported schools – schools where parents deliver their children because they want them to be educated and because they are required to by law, and that still offer very little hope of a meaningful education and a bright future.

Because their parents simply can’t afford to pay fees and the government subsidies don’t even necessarily cover working toilets, students at these schools are being denied their right to an environment that’s conducive to learning, and ultimately to an education.

Fees shouldn’t be the only route to education

At the other end of the system, we have those students who have somehow managed to make their way through schools like this with a pass mark that is sufficient for them to attend university, who are now fighting for the right to free or affordable education for all in South Africa.

Why shouldn’t they be afforded the opportunity to make something of themselves? And primary school is where the support needs to start, regardless of what fees the parents can pay.

The South African education system is in crisis. The government can’t continue to neglect schools, textbooks and infrastructure, and then make out like the governing bodies are at fault when they prioritise their students’ needs. And they can’t keep allowing the ability to pay fees to be the distinction between receiving a decent education and getting nothing at all.

This afternoon, after my daughter’s second day at school, I look forward to collecting her, waiting to hear stories of how her day went, what activities are scheduled, what she learnt and what she was shown. That’s every parent’s right – to feel that their child is getting a decent shot at an education and a successful future, so how about we prioritise providing it for everyone?

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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