Why the school closures are wrong

| Ntshadi Mofokeng
March against Western Cape school closures. 15 September 2012. Photo courtesy of Equal Education.

This is an edited version of a speech that was delivered on 15 September at a march in Cape Town against the proposed closure of 27 schools.

I am a youth organiser at Equal Education. We are a movement fighting for quality education for every child in South Africa. That is why we are here today marching in solidarity with the learners of the 27 schools which face closure.

As I was preparing to speak today, it occurred to me that the children who were born in 1994 turned 18 this year. The children we call the “born free” generation have come of age. While they are lucky to have been born after the apartheid regime was removed from power through the people’s struggle, we know that life has not been so easy for all of them. They still experience the legacy of apartheid inequality. We see it throughout our society in terms of housing, health, unemployment and many other important issues. What options do our “born frees” have to escape these cycles of poverty and inequality when it is still true that black children growing up in townships and rural areas are more disadvantaged in their education than their white and black counterparts in middle-class areas?

An overwhelming number of schools in townships and rural areas lack basic schooling resources and their infrastructure is in terrible condition. 18 years into our democracy, we demand that our government takes responsibility and prioritises our education system. This is why Equal Education has spent more than three years campaigning about infrastructure in schools. We all know that teaching cannot happen in a broken down school or one that lacks the facilities for particular subjects or activities. A large part of our population is still suffering under these conditions.

And so we really must ask ourselves some important questions:

How can we expect learners to learn how to read and write when they don’t have books in front of them?

How can we expect young people to build our future when their classrooms are falling down around them?

How can we expect them to become informed, engaged citizens when they feel like no one cares about their education?

What is being done to make sure that our young people are free, not dom (stupid)?

We all know that the right to basic education helps us to enjoy our other constitutionally protected rights. So we must protect this right dearly and make sure that it is enjoyed equally, whether one is born in Matatiele, a rural area in the Eastern Cape, or in the elite suburbs of Constantia, here in the Western Cape. Every child should be free to attend a school where she or he will receive a quality education which requires appropriate and sufficient resources, stable infrastructure, qualified teachers and capable school management.

When our education is equal we will all be empowered to determine our own paths in life. We will be able to exchange our school uniforms for doctors’ coats, lawyers’ robes or business suits. But if our schools are not improved, our only option will be maids’ uniforms or gardeners’ overalls.

Unfortunately gaining access to a quality education is still a big challenge for poor and working class children. Many parents work very hard to place their children in the best schools that they can afford. They do this because they understand the value of education in giving their children an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. So it is of great concern when decisions about our children’s future are made without consulting their parents and community members. We say to our leaders, you cannot sit in the branches of the tree enjoying the fruit and then just decide to cut off the roots without coming and asking those of us who live at the bottom of the food chain.

So today we bring our grievances to the Western Cape Provincial Parliament to have our voices heard in the matter of school closures. If officials will not come to us, we will go to them and show them that we care about our education.

Earlier this year, the Western Cape Education Department notified 27 schools that they may face closure by the end of 2012. At the moment we do not know whether or not they will be closed.

We understand that for several schools, relocation to a better resourced nearby school is in learners’ best interests. But this is not true in all cases. For some schools, closure will place learners in a worse position. This is why we raise 3 main concerns about the proposal for school closures:

First, Equal Education doesn’t believe in closing schools because of under-performance. This is not an acceptable reason; especially where the provincial government has not done enough to improve performance. Without addressing the root causes of under-performance we risk passing those issues on to the next school. Then we won’t have achieved anything and the learners will have suffered even more. The South African Schools Act says “the HoD (Head of Department) must take all reasonable steps to assist a school in addressing … under-performance.” So we demand that the Western Cape Education Department put in place a strategy for turning around performance in these schools before closing them.

It is important to highlight that these schools serve poverty-stricken communities in desperate need of empowerment through education. The poor need to feel that our government leaders value their education as much as that of learners in former model-C schools.

Second, we demand that the provincial government take up its responsibility to protect our learners’ right to basic education. The placement plan does not adequately provide for their safety and transportation. We cannot ignore the prevalence of gangsterism which will affect learners even more as they travel to different areas. If closing their schools puts them in danger, then the school must be kept open and rather, it must be improved.

Our third concern is that the MEC for Education in the Western Cape, Donald Grant, will not be announcing his decision, to close the schools or not, until the end of this month or the beginning of October. This will be after the deadline for enrolment for 2013. Parents are in a very difficult situation because they don’t know if their child’s school will be open next year. This means that parents are quickly pulling their children out of the schools facing closure which is causing learner numbers to go down even more. This is not fair to the schools, the learners or their parents who must plan ahead in this period of uncertainty.

So, in light of this, Equal Education is opposed to the closure of schools on the grounds of under-performance and also where there isn’t a suitable placement plan. We demand that our leaders come into the communities where our schools are and engage with us to find solutions to these problems. This issue has nothing to do with party politics; it is about the learners and making sure that they can enjoy a quality education.

Equal Education will continue to campaign and if necessary challenge education matters in court if that is what it takes. It is time to bury the legacy of Bantu Education and inequality in our school system. Every child deserves an education which allows them to take charge of their future.

TOPICS:  Education

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