Equal education for all means whites also gain

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi. (Netwerk24)
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi. (Netwerk24)

Panyaza Lesufi

At the height of the civil rights movement in the United States more than 50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr, argued that love is better than hatred, that truth is better than a lie, and that man's future is not tied to his stockpile of missiles and egotism.

King, best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using the tactics of non-violence and civil disobedience, taught us then and now that when we give all people equal access to jobs, housing, education, voting rights and all the rest, it does not mean that whites would lose anything. They would gain something themselves.

Frans Cronje's opinion headlined, "Gauteng education department's master class in delusion" is an example of someone whose future is "tied to his stockpile of missiles and egotism".

In his rush to argue that the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) dealt with challenges at Koeitjies en Kalfies Kleuterskool in Centurion, St John's College in Houghton, and recently the Hoërskool Overvaal, by focusing on the wrong obstacles confronting the education of our province, he twisted the facts and ignored the progress the GDE was making. This was meant to mislead the South African public and satisfy his "stockpile of missiles and egotism".

I wish to offer only the facts, not missiles, to prove that Cronje and his ilk continue to live lives determined by fearful experiences, torn between daily experiences of hating and fearing some people, institutions and communities around them while on one hand yearning for love, trust and cooperation on the other.

Here we go. Cronje states that "there is too little money within the State and that officials are therefore unable to provide access to better quality schools."

The truth is money can never hinder the department from providing access to better quality schools, the Department of Education remains the single largest budget item in the province and in the financial year of 2017/2018 its budget was increased from R39.5 billion to R40.8 billion.

Here are the figures:

- R3.37 billion for direct transfers to Public Ordinary Schools, Early Childhood Development sites and Special Schools.

- R2.3 billion for the special school sector which caters for learners with intellectual and other disabilities, which includes R12.6 million for a new conditional grant for severely disabled learners;

- R1.07 billion to provide 1,15 million learners with a hot meal at school every day;

- R779 million to transport learners who live more than 5 kilometres from the nearest school;

- R724 million to support the continued roll out of an e-Learning strategy;

- R810 million for textbooks, stationery, school furniture and other learner support material;

- R362.7 million to pay municipal bills;

- R587million towards the Teacher development and support initiatives; and

- R476.3 million to improve the grade 12 performance and to increase the bachelor pass rates.

There is money and all the key focus areas in the department have been improved tremendously. 

He also states that "the real problem rests in the fact that many urban schools produce very poor results, and this cannot be addressed by sending all their pupils to the minority of schools that maintain high standards".

Response: It's misleading to say urban schools produce poor results, yet with the effort GDE has put to the province achieved 35 000 bachelors' passes in 2017, with 7 of its districts in the top 10 nationwide.

The GDE has launched schools of specialisation, paperless classroom initiative by equipping more than 300 township high schools with high-speed broadband connectivity, interactive smartboards and e-content, and giving tablets to grade 12 learners, while teachers received laptops and the initiative to twin poor and wealth is going well.

He further states that "the number of public schools in the province increased by under 10% since 2000, even though the population of the province increased by more than 40% over the same period".

The truth is the GDE has opened 48 schools since 2014 and continues to provide extra classes using Alternative Construction Technology (ACT) mobile classrooms. The more learners increase, the more GDE builds new schools. Since 2017, GDE is opening one school per month.

Cronje claims that the levels of pupil pregnancy have doubled since 2009. 

Teen pregnancy is not the responsibility of schools alone. Parents and communities have a hand also. The GDE is working with the Matthew Goniwe School of Leadership to conduct training for all school-based support teams who are involved in sex education and sex abuse.

Cronje argues that "less than half of the children who wrote maths in matric over the years 2015 to 2017 'passed' with a grade of 40% or higher".

His argument is misleading. The department's performance in most subjects like maths, physical science and accounting has been above 60%. Gauteng achieved second place nationwide in the national senior certificate exams has opened its first specialised schools, Curtis Nkondo School of Specialisation which focuses on Engineering, Maths and Science, ICT and Commerce, and Entrepreneurship. The perception that the GDE isn't doing much to improve its maths results is also misleading.

Cronje argues that "the real problem rests in the fact that many urban schools produce very poor results, and this cannot be addressed by sending all their pupils to the minority of schools that maintain high standards".

The accusation offers no empirical evidence. The truth is 39 schools performing below 60% are responsible for 1,9% of 14,86% failures (12,8%), 81 schools performing between 60% - 70% are responsible for 3,47% of 14,86% failures (23,38%), 136 schools performing between 70% - 80% are responsible for 4,47% of 14,86% failures (28,73%), 205 schools performing between 80% - 90% are responsible for 3,63% of 14,86% failures (24,42%), and 413 schools performing between 90% - 100% are responsible for 1,58% of 14,86% failures (10,67%).

Therefore, it's improper to claim urban schools produce very poor results. 

Cronje writes that "less than half of the children who wrote maths in matric over the years 2015 to 2017 'passed' with a grade of 40% or higher."

This is untrue. Out of the 36 937 who wrote Maths in 2017, about 11 915 obtained between 0-29, 9%   and 13 107 obtained more than 30%.

In 2014 67.0% passed Maths, 67, 5%, in 2015, 68, 5 in 2016 and in 2017 the province attained 66, 0%.

To Cronje and his followers, the challenge to build an equal and egalitarian society has never been more demanding and urgent. The evils of poverty, unemployment and inequality continue to gather momentum.

There is a charge that the post-1994 government has neglected township schools and left them to the whims of Sadtu. As a result black parents demand access in 'well run schools' in the suburbs. This argument does not hold because: 

- Majority of learners in Gauteng are still in townships.

- GDE has consistently invested in improving schools in townships: teacher training, investment in infrastructure and extra tuition support in the form of the Secondary School Improvement Programme (SSIP). As a result the gap in matric results performance between township and suburban schools has narrowed over time.

In fact, many black parents that require access live next to the schools but are excluded because of Afrikaans as a single medium of instruction. There is evidence that these schools accept learners from outside the community to be bussed in order the keep the school as Afrikaans medium. This is patently unfair to black parents living close to the school.

In fact, what Cronje and his ilk are ignoring is the change in population dynamics around these schools. At the rate at which population dynamics are working out the number of learners speaking and learning in Afrikaans is declining and many of the Afrikaans medium schools are below capacity.

However, due to the historic under-investment in black education by the apartheid government, it is rational for parents to demands access to better equipped schools. Thus, there is nothing wrong if parents in the township seek access to the best resourced schools.

There is an unfair insinuation that the GDE is on a crusade against Afrikaans as a language, hence the community must mobilise to protect "die taal". This is intended to whip fear that Afrikaans will be eroded by English.

All the GDE is requiring is that English classes be allowed to coexist with Afrikaans, i.e. there will be parallel rather than dual medium. Parallel means learners opting to learn in Afrikaans will continue to do so and educators will not be required to switch between Afrikaans and English during a single lesson. But the diversity of the learner population will go a long way in encouraging social cohesion.

In the case where Afrikaans medium schools are required to add English classes, the department has a duty to provide material and educators to support English classes being opened in these schools.

Let us embrace King's advice that when we give all people equal access to jobs, housing, education, voting rights and all the rest, it does not mean that whites will lose anything. They would gain something themselves.

- Panyaza Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for Education.

Frans Cronje responds to Panyaza Lesufi: We did not say resource constraints explain poor quality schooling

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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