School zon­ing still re­flects apartheid era

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

THE process of the ad­mis­sion of pupils to schools for the 2018 aca­demic year is well un­der way. This is an op­por­tune time to speak about the im­pact of ad­mis­sion poli­cies on so­cial trans­for­ma­tion.

The man­age­ment of the ad­mis­sions raises a num­ber of im­por­tant is­sues around co-op­er­a­tive gov­er­nance and sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers, as well as the rea­son­able ex­er­cise of public power or func­tions.

At the core of this process is the right to basic ed­u­ca­tion, non-dis­crim­i­na­tion and the need to re­dress his­toric im­bal­ances to achieve sub­stan­tive equal­ity.

The South African Schools Act em­pow­ers a school gov­ern­ing body (SGB) to de­ter­mine the school’s ad­mis­sion pol­icy. De­spite an em­pha­sis on fair­ness and rea­son­able­ness in the ex­er­cise of this func­tion, dis­crim­i­na­tion largely per­me­ates the process.

Pupils with­out iden­tity, pass­port or per­mit num­bers are un­law­fully ex­cluded from ac­cess­ing their right to basic ed­u­ca­tion, lan­guage as a po­ten­tial bar­rier con­tin­ues to be a hot topic in the public ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, while some schools con­tinue to charge ap­pli­ca­tion fees, thereby ex­clud­ing pupils from poor so­cio-eco­nomic back­grounds.

Pupils with learn­ing or health bar­ri­ers are of­ten ex­cluded from the main­stream ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem de­spite for­mal poli­cies em­pha­sis­ing the need for in­clu­sive ed­u­ca­tion. In the past, some schools have even re­fused ad­mis­sion to pupils on the ba­sis of al­ler­gies.

All pupils, re­gard­less of spe­cific char­ac­ter­is­tics, be­havioural records or abil­ity to per­form, have a fun­da­men­tal right to re­ceive a basic ed­u­ca­tion.

The prac­tice in some schools to se­lect pupils on the ba­sis of ad­min­is­tra­tive burden or per­for­mance runs con­trary to the role of a public in­sti­tu­tion, where such in­sti­tu­tions play such an im­por­tant role in ad­vanc­ing equal­ity and so­cial trans­for­ma­tion.

As high­lighted by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court in Fedsas v MEC for Ed­u­ca­tion, Gaut­eng: “Public schools are not rar­efied spaces only for the bright, well-man­nered and fi­nan­cially well-heeled learn­ers. They are public as­sets which must ad­vance not only the parochial in­ter­est of its im­me­di­ate learn­ers but may… also be re­quired to help achieve univer­sal and non-dis­crim­i­na­tory ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion.”

But dis­crim­i­na­tion and the per­pet­u­a­tion of in­equal­ity is also largely in­dis­crim­i­nate and may be un­in­ten­tional. So let’s talk about ad­mis­sion zon­ing prac­tices and what they mean for equal­ity.

While zon­ing is not al­ways pre­scribed by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment, in the vast ma­jor­ity of schools pref­er­ence is given to pupils whose par­ents live or work in the area.

Many don’t see a prob­lem with this – al­lo­cat­ing place­ments on this ba­sis pro­vides an amount of cer­tainty and con­ve­nience, re­duces travel costs and al­le­vi­ates other po­ten­tial ad­min­is­tra­tive dif­fi­cul­ties in the ad­mis­sion process. This is true, but what lies be­yond is the re­al­ity that the spa­tial geog­ra­phy con­tin­ues to re­flect apartheid-era di­vi­sions along lines of race and so­cio-eco­nomic class.

In many ar­eas, black fam­i­lies still re­side in the for­mer group ar­eas, whilst the ma­jor­ity of well-re­sourced and bet­ter per­form­ing schools are lo­cated in more af­flu­ent ar­eas, which re­main pre­dom­i­nantly white.

The abil­ity of SGBs to charge fees means that schools host­ing a ma­jor­ity of fam­i­lies from a higher so­cio-eco­nomic back­ground can hire ad­di­tional teach­ers, build more class­rooms and pro­vide more fa­cil­i­ties such as com­puter lab­o­ra­to­ries and sport­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

Schools lo­cated in his­tor­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged ar­eas of­ten rely on stretched state fund­ing as par­ents or guardians can­not al­ways af­ford to pay school fees.

So, where you live or work will de­fine where your child goes to school and the qual­ity of ed­u­ca­tion he or she will re­ceive.

The ac­knowl­edge­ment of this re­al­ity drives per­cep­tions that a pupil’s school is au­to­mat­i­cally linked to his or her sta­tus, abil­ity and op­por­tu­ni­ties.

In Gaut­eng, for ex­am­ple, cer­tain schools re­ceived thou­sands of ap­pli­ca­tions this year while about 400 schools re­ceived less than 50 ap­pli­ca­tions each.

While schools pre­dom­i­nantly ap­ply geo­graphic cri­te­ria for ad­mis­sions, par­ents and guardians are in­creas­ingly mov­ing out­side their ar­eas of res­i­dence or work in search of bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties for their chil­dren.

And isn’t this what democ­racy is about – the free­dom to break the cy­cle of seg­re­ga­tion, poverty and de­pri­va­tion?

What is the so­lu­tion? More reg­u­la­tion? Maybe, but we should also be wary of cre­at­ing an over-reg­u­lated and pol­i­cy­heavy public ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem that con­strains com­mu­nity-driven val­ues.

Per­haps the so­lu­tion, for now, is one pro­posed by the Gaut­eng De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion in extending the geo­graphic prox­im­ity to 30km when ap­ply­ing zon­ing dur­ing an ad­mis­sions process.

We also need a shift in mindset and a com­mit­ment by schools to ad­dress in­equal­i­ties in basic ed­u­ca­tion through eq­ui­table ad­mis­sions pro­cesses that take into ac­count his­tor­i­cal im­bal­ances and the vi­tal role of ed­u­ca­tion in pro­mot­ing in­te­gra­tion and real trans­for­ma­tion.

The prin­ci­ple that the best in­ter­est of the child is of para­mount im­por­tance must be at the fore­front. As one of the key driv­ers of so­cial ad­vance­ment, the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem must re­flect and be ca­pa­ble of achiev­ing the ideals of con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy, with prin­ci­ples of free­dom, equal­ity, dig­nity and the need for the re­dress of past his­tor­i­cal im­bal­ances at its core. An­dré H Gaum is a com­mis­sioner at the South African Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion

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