Curro Must Stand

2015-06-22 07:45

Curro was in the news last week for alleged segregation at its Roodeplaat school in Pretoria and this created an outcry in the media and social platforms. There were even people that started a #CurroMustFall campaign. To me, this is an absolute over-reaction based on a lack of information, which disregards the great good that Curro does for the education system in SA. Curro, which owns 42 schools and a teacher’s training college, is part of the solution to the education problems in SA and should be commended for the work that they do. However, they should do more to promote integration at Roodeplaat and their other schools with a large Afrikaans contingent. There is also more that they can do to help drive improvements in public sector education.

The concerns

Curro Roodeplaat is a dual medium school with c.40% Afrikaans pupils and the rest English pupils. Their English classes are integrated, but their Afrikaans classes are mostly white, not by design, but because there are not sufficient non-white parents that want to put their children in Afrikaans classes. The school promotes integration in its sports teams, its choir, its ballet classes, its public speaking groups and many more areas. However, they can do more. Instead of putting the English and Afrikaans classes on separate buses next time they go for an outing, they should mix it up. They should have a drive to attract non-white children to their Afrikaans classes, which could include bursaries. And they could have more integrated school functions, which could include students and their parents.

Two of Curro’s other schools, namely Hazeldene and Heuwelkruin also have a large proportion of Afrikaans pupils (30%-40%) and may suffer from similar class dynamics to Roodeplaat. The company should pro-actively encourage in-class and extracurricular integration in these schools to avoid any spill-over of concerns. However, if you look at Curro as a whole (all 42 schools), in-class integration is the norm with 85% of students being English and 66% of students non-white. Even in the three affected schools, extramural integration does occur, although more could be encouraged.

A concern that was raised in February 2015 was that Curro as a whole does not have sufficient diversity in its teacher base, with a disproportionate number of teachers being white. Curro recognises this as a problem, which to some extent is driven by supply and demand. In an effort to address this problem, Curro is adding distance learning to its Embury Teacher Training College to increase its number of graduates from the current 200 per year and to allow Curro to employ them country-wide. Embury’s students are currently 2/3rds non-white. In the mean time, Curro should do more to diversify its teacher mix during its appointment process.

The reaction

I was shocked, but not surprised by the way that commentators reacted to the Curro video. The interesting thing about the reaction was that it was to a large extent driven by commentators that have been critical of government recently. It is almost as if, following weeks of criticisms over FIFA corruption, the Nkandla report, the delay of the Marikana report and the El-Bashir non-arrest, Curro was a convenient scapegoat allowing these commentators to confirm their non-racist credentials. Even the DA jumped on the bandwagon, asking the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to investigate Roodeplaat. Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater and this even before you have checked whether the bathwater is in actual fact dirty and cold. And what does #CurroMustFall mean? Can it mean anything else than Curro must close the doors to its 42 schools, which accommodate 36 000 pupils? Commentators should calm down, get the facts and contribute to constructive debate.

Curro’s contribution to SA education

I have written before about my concerns surrounding the education system in SA. Despite spending large amounts of money on education, we produce sub-standard outcomes, especially when it comes to Maths and Science. The main driver of poor results, in my opinion is the very low standards set by the Department of Education for students to achieve passes. Additional drivers are underperforming principals, underperforming teachers, ill discipline amongst learners and a lack of infrastructure. To deal with this problem government should lift standards and empower principals (especially top-performing principals) to extract more from their teachers and their learners.

Curro is part of the solution to the education problem in SA. The school has 36 000 learners, of which 66% are non-white. At its Meridien Schools (which costs less to attend), it achieves a 90% pass rate, 43% matric exemption, with over half of students taking Maths (not Maths literacy) and achieving an average of 45%. At its more expensive schools, the pass rate is 99% and its average Maths mark is 65%. Over time, they are targeting a further improvement in their Meridien Schools results, especially as far as Maths goes. Curro’s Embury Teacher Training College has 800 students (200 graduates per year), which will increase over time when distance learning is added.

In the 2014 financial year, Curro provided R44m in bursaries to around 3000 pupils of which most came from previously disadvantaged communities. This compares to only R51m in profit that the company made in that year.

Curro schools are not cheap to attend, but they are much better priced than most other private schools in SA. The company’s Meridien schools charge between R1000 and R1750 per month, which puts them in line with many Model C public schools in SA. As a result, Curro is not out of reach for many ordinary employed South Africans.

By educating 36 000 pupils and 800 teachers, Curro is helping to reduce the burden on the state, which should theoretically allow the state to offer improved education, especially to those of lesser means. If the state is not providing this, it is not because Curro is not doing its part; it is because government is not doing its part.

Instead of demanding that #CurroMustFall, we should be encouraging Curro to open more schools and train more teachers.

What more could Curro do?

In addition to dealing with integration and diversity issues, in addition to offering quality education to 36 000 learners, offering 3000 bursaries and training 800 teachers, there is more that Curro could and should do, in my opinion. I would like to see Curro share their successes with state schools, especially township schools. The company could choose 42 township schools to become sister schools to their own schools. They could then assist these schools with curriculum, teacher training, work shadowing, teacher exchanges, etc. They could also have joint sports days with their sister schools, help these schools to find sponsors for sports gear and other infrastructure. I would also like to see a Curro Excellence award being introduced for top-performing township schools in SA.

Conclusion

Racism is an ugly part of our history and present in SA. We should speak out against institutions that do not promote diversity and actively encourage segregation. I do not consider Curro to be such an institution. However, like so many institutions in SA that may have their hearts in the right place, but have room for improvement, Curro should strive to do better. In addition to being part of the solution to sub-standard education in SA, they should be part of the solution to dealing with racial and inequality issues. Curro must stand.

What do you think of my assessment of the Curro outrage? Do you think commentators have over-reacted? Do you think Curro is inherently racist? Do you recognise the contribution that Curro makes to education in SA? What more do you think Curro and other institutions can do? I would love to hear your feedback.

In the mean time, keep your talking straight!

Marius Strydom is the CEO of MLAX Consulting

https://www.facebook.com/straighttalkingstrydom

https://twitter.com/Marius_Man

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