Through SGBs, parents, principals and teachers together can establish new approaches to encourage joint efforts to improve learners' education, writes Panyaza Lesufi.
Because of the rapid advance of standards and accountability in schools, there is a growing need to engage families and communities as partners. Townships, suburbs and their communities are seldom able to stay healthy without good schools.
Schools are, and should always be, active partners with parents and communities through democratic School Governing Bodies (SGBs).
Parents, teachers and learners are an important part of the process of improving schools, as is giving SGBs an effective voice in decision-making in the schools.
To achieve this, the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 requires that all public schools must establish SGBs that are democratically elected. This principle, as stated in Section 195 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, requires public administrators to encourage stakeholders to participate in decision-making processes in terms of those policies that directly impact on them.
SGB elections, the third largest
Education remains one of the most important activities organised in modern societies. It creates a demanding but rewarding environment, in which individuals may realise their creative and intellectual potential.
That is why, across the country, more than five million people, including parents and guardians of learners will take to the polls to elect new members of the SGBs between now and the end of April 2021.
The SGB election is the third-largest after the national and provincial elections.
In my province of Gauteng, these elections will take place between 15 March and 30 April 2021. The new members will take over once the elections have been declared free and fair at the end of the process.
So why do we have SGBs?
What do we lose without them? What are they doing that tells us they are up to the task?
Before answering the question, a bit of context is required.
The 1994 democratic dispensation brought significant changes in the Rainbow Nation.
Today, the majority of education services are decentralised, and the nine provinces are responsible for implementing national education policies and plans.
South Africa has more than 15 million children in school and approximately 380 000 teachers in approximately 30 000 schools, including 400 schools for children with special needs and more than 1 200 registered private schools.
A large portion of the nation's annual budget is dedicated to education. That is why the provincial government has identified education as an apex priority and a societal matter.
The factors that influenced this approach are well articulated in the province's Education Roadmap 2019-2024, whose five strategic goals are:
• Early childhood development;
• Promote quality education across all classrooms and schools;
• Create safe schools that embody social cohesion, patriotism and non-violence;
• Change the education landscape to accelerate relevant and quality learning; and
• Address the needs of Gauteng youth through smooth transitions between important steps in education and work.
Therefore, improving parental and community involvement through SGBs improves schools, pushing the public school systems to higher standards.
Fortunately, schools and teachers have long recognised the need to establish cooperative links between school and family. Collaboration between parents, teachers and surrounding communities has taken on increased importance as society recognises the need to help with the difficult responsibility of educating our children.
Gadgets and connectivity during Covid-19
It is a pity that because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic protocols, we can no longer meet as we used to. We are now compelled to use gadgets and connectivity.
In using information communication technology (ICT), we may regress in terms if accessibility – excluding other people purely because they don't have access to those resources.
But now education must take place, even when learners or educators are at home. We have no choice but to invest heavily in ICT to ensure that we provide learners and teachers with the support they need for teaching and learning to continue during this pandemic.
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When parents and other members of the community get involved in school affairs, they send a valuable message to their children. They show that they truly care about the learner's success and the resulting benefit is that the children feel more confident.
Through SGBs, parents, principals and teachers together can establish new approaches to encourage joint efforts to improve learners' education.
By engaging their communities, parents, businesses, civic and community members, SGBs create a culture that supports schools in their main mission: raising learner achievement.
Across the length and breadth of our Rainbow Nation, SGBs are successfully doing just that while performing a variety of key governance functions, such as setting academic goals, priorities, and policies; empowering the principal; and providing on-the-ground oversight and accountability for their school.
SGBs are finding realistic and workable ways to involve parents and other community representatives in planning, establishing policy, and making decisions regarding mainline educational issues, creating a positive atmosphere and making changes to improve standards.
One major and increasingly important purpose of SGBs is to connect the national government, provincial and local governments, as well as local educators, with the real and diverse world of local people in a way that is close to the community, accountable to it, and which has the authority to act.
SGBs have a long history as a cornerstone of democracy. Attend any school board meeting and you'll see communities having their say.
SGBs give parents a mechanism for engaging in decisions that directly affect their children. This ability to engage allows parents to effect change and feel invested not only in their children's schools, but in the child's education as a whole. This cannot help but affect student achievement.
SGBs core decision-making functions
Certain core decision-making functions are fundamental to a school system's accountability to the public. In this regard, these functions can be performed only by an elected governing body.
• The establishment of a long-term vision for the school;
• The establishment and maintenance of a basic organisational structure for the school, including employment of the principal and teachers, adoption of an annual budget, adoption of governance policies, and creation of a climate that promotes excellence;
• The establishment of systems and processes to ensure accountability to the community, including fiscal accountability, accountability for programmes and learners outcomes, staff accountability; and
• Advocacy on behalf of children and public education at the community, state, and national levels.
Indeed, these accountabilities prove that schools are also centres of community interaction. After all, parents entrust their children to schools for six hours a day, 180 days a year and expect schools to provide a safe environment that also supports their broader development of skills, interests, character and values.
Our schools are a critical part of our communities. Schools must engage those communities in order to thrive and prosper.
Let us participate in the SGB elections across our Rainbow Nation and enhance our schools' democratic values.
- Panyaza Lesufi is a member of the Executive Council for Education in Gauteng.
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