Buildings or people: what makes for a wealthy school?

2012-08-31 10:13

A recent visit to schools all over SA has highlighted the shambles that is the Department of Education's quintile system. Schools are rated according the qunitiles, with quintile 1 schools deemed to be poorest and receiving the full Government subsidy, and quintile 5 schools deemed the wealthiest and receiving the smallest subsidy. The higher the quintile rating the higher the funding shortfall that the parents and governing body have to make up each year.

But how is the quintile determined? Belhar Primary in Belville, Cape Town and Glenhills Primary school in Stanger near Durban are both considered quintile 4 schools. These are considered by Government to be affluent schools thanks to the good condition of their infrastructure.

If you were to take the children out of the school, on the face of it, these schools may appear to be affluent. With not a brick building in site, Belhar is a container school built in the 1970s to cater to coloureds in the Western Cape. Children are drawn from the heart of Cape flats gang land where drug abuse and sexual abuse are a cruel everyday reality. Thanks to consistently good leadership, the school has been well maintained. The classes are in good condition, the outside walls decorated with bright murals and a newly laid irrigation system offers a promise of a food garden in the making.

Glenhills is a solid brick and mortar school also built in the apartheid era to cater to Indian families settling in Stanger. This school too is well maintained. The fees at Belhar are R650/year, and at Glenhills R450/year but the reality is that less than half the parents pay. Between an unfairly small Government subsidy and parents who cannot afford fees – these schools have to move mountains each year to make up the shortfall.

“The quintile system has not been revised as the demographic make-up of schools has changed,” says Mr PC Kistasamy, principal of Glenhills. He refers here to a trend that can be seen in communities all over South Africa. Parents “trade-up” an area when sending their children to schools. Families in informal settlements shun the schools provided to them and send their kids to township schools. Parents in townships aspire to schools “in town” referring to ex Model-C or traditionally white schools. The socio-economic reality in the classroom is often not a reflection of the world outside the school gates.

“Informal settlements have sprung up in this area, and the racial composition of our school has changed,” says Mr Kistasamy. “49% of our learners are exempt from school fees because they are on child support grants, are being raised by pensioners or are from child headed households.”

These schools find themselves in an impossible position. They cannot refuse admission to these learners, and they have no recourse if parents don’t pay fees. At the same time, they receive a smaller Government subsidy because their infrastructure suggests that they are wealthy schools. Many schools have requested a revision of their quintile status for years, but nobody listens.

“The bricks and mortar and the physical state of the school tells one story,” says Mr Kistasamy, “but it is the makeup of who sits inside the classroom that tells the real story.”



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