SCHOOLS ARE THE FOUNDATION OF GROWTH, JOBS, INNOVATION AND SOCIAL COHESION
Almost two decades ago, a world commission came up with a blueprint of Education For the 21st Century and identified four fundamental types of learning which through a person's life would be the pillars of knowledge: “Learning to Know, Learning to do, Learning to Live Together and Learning to Be.”
The blueprint by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), also spoke about seven over-arching tensions, these being: global and the local; universal and the individual; tradition and modernity; long term and short term considerations; competition and concern for equality of opportunity; expansion of knowledge and our capacity to assimilate it and the tension between the spiritual and the material.
As a member of the global village, there has been no topic in our Rainbow Nation that causes more division among teachers, administrators and parents than inclusive education as it relates to educational and social values, our sense of individual worth and as UNESCO concluded “expansion of knowledge and our capacity to assimilate it” and “Learning to Live Together and Learning to Be through Self-Realisation.”
That is why the Department of Basic Education has proposed to amend the South African Schools Act, 1996 (Act No. 84 of 1996), and the Employment of Educators Act, 1998, to foster a diversity and social cohesion mind-set. Amongst others, the draft bill seeks to:
- Give the Head of Department the final authority to admit a pupil to a public school;
- A public school must take into account the diverse cultural beliefs and religious observances of the learners;
- Limit the powers of a School Governing Body (SGB) in recommending candidates for appointment;
- Empower the Head of Department to dissolve an SGB that has ceased to perform functions allocated to it in terms of the Act;
- Prohibit educators from conducting business with the state or from being a director of a public or private company conducting business with the state;
- Require the SGB to submit the language policy of a public school, and any amendment thereof, to the Head of Department for approval;
- Authorise education officers to conduct an investigation into the financial affairs of a public school and after consultation with the governing body and
- Request the Auditor -General to undertake an audit of the records and financial statements of a public school.
The aim of the proposed bill is to promote social inclusion, create social consciousness and foster a strong sense of belonging to all of us. It recognises that divisiveness comes naturally and that a conscious, concerted effort is required to further the goals of social justice and equality. That is why this draft bill should not be a threat to anybody, including teachers, administrators and parents, and even the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS).
Of course, the minister and my colleagues across the provinces are concerned that more than 80% of student population of former model C schools are black whilst the teaching staff remain white. We cannot be held at ransom by non-progressive and self-centred beneficiaries of the past and haters of transformation. It is quite clear that those who continue to benefit from remnants of segregation and colonialism to the exclusion of the majority of our people are hell bent to put up a fierce fight to close out our people in accessing quality education.
This is tantamount to regrouping of those who would like to exclusively keep these benefits to themselves. Any insults by those who are very nostalgic about the past era, will not infuse intimidation to us and all those who embrace transformation of our education.
Actually they deserve no sympathy or support from any progressive South African. Their opposition to the introduction of additional languages in the education system affirms that, is only their languages that matters and as such other languages must continue to be marginalized and undermined. We are further taken aback by those who are opposing the review of powers of SGBs.
Our people have raised serious concerns on the conduct of some SGBs especially on the appointment of senior managers of schools as well as the management of school finances. Many parents have registered their displeasure on how SGBs are undermining their Constitutional right to education and we will challenge same. When we declared that the doors of learning and culture should be opened for all, we meant, it should be as such. Let it be known that social cohesion and a non-racial society is not a trend or a 'nice-to-have.
It is a strategic imperative, especially for the Department of Education. After all, education is a catalyst for change in any society and non-racial society cannot be realised without and integrated classroom. Inclusive education is one of the most effective ways in which we can promote a unified, incorporated, consolidated and tolerant society. A non-racial education system has a range of benefits, including developing a positive understanding amongst all of us. It is about embracing differences, welcoming debate, and fostering new ideas.
A non-racial education must be constantly reinforced in word and deed. All of us, parents, educators and SGBs must insist on a culture that values each person's uniqueness and contributions, commit to, and be accountable to work towards and non-racial country. Equality is an important factor in the development of any society.
Equality underpins a democratic legitimacy and that seeks to replace relationships defined by hostility with relationships of respect and solidarity. Investing in a non-racial and integrated system is a means to secure growth, social cohesion and a peaceful development trajectory for our country. Schools are the foundation of growth, jobs, innovation and social cohesion. Let us strengthen social cohesion so that everyone can experience diversity as a plus, not a threat.
Panyaza Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for Education.