Government, families and communities define school readiness
Great deal of support needed for children’s learning experience
SCHOOL readiness is a contested and emotional term. It is a term invoked regularly in discussions on improving the quality of schooling outcomes and learner performance, and on better preparation of young people for life and to facilitate transition to post-school opportunities.
Indeed, readiness means different things to different people. Sometimes, readiness is described in terms of age or stage of development. At other times, checklists of readiness skills and knowledge are used to identify what children should be able to do or know before they start school.
Still, other definitions of readiness emphasise social, emotional, curricula and infrastructural aspects.
As communities reiterate the importance of education, as families seek to support their children’s success in education, and as educators face increasing calls for accountability, there is renewed attention paid to notions of the readiness of schools to receive and educate our future leaders on a daily basis.
In any definition of readiness for school, learners and the schools they attend are important. That is why the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) has proactively monitored public schools on a quarterly basis to ensure that all schools are ready for the 2017 academic year.
To date, there are 2 368 264 learners enrolled in Gauteng schools. An increase of 105 945 learners was recorded between 2015 and 2016 total enrolments. This represents an increase of 4.47 percent. Rapid in-migration remains a contributing factor to the growth in learner numbers.
The department is grateful for the co-operation it has received from parents who heeded the call to use the online system. It is acknowledged that some parents faced frustration during the application and placement period.
By the beginning of 2017, more than 40 000 learners are still not placed. The department will work round-the-clock to place all these learners and inform the parents.
When we consider readiness for schools, we must consider the role of families, schools, communities and government. After all, children do not live in isolation, they are members of many different groups and interact in many different contexts.
Families and communities provide critical support systems for children, and they nurture school readiness gradually over time, and as children and families engage in a range of experiences.
Communities have another important role to play in defining and shaping perceptions of readiness. The government and communities provide infrastructure and social links that together make up social capital.
As government, we work with speed and greater resolve to implement policy goals of our transformation programmes. We believe that through interventions, we improve the quality of learning across all schools and across all grades, and have the desired impact on post-schooling opportunity.
The government and communities, with high levels of social capital, provide a range of benefits for children through the relationships that exist and the availability of resources.
Physical resources such as schools, child care and health services are important. So, too, are rich relationships that buffer and support families.
That is why the GDE is preparing to deliver eight new brick and mortar schools, 12 new Alternative Construction Technology (ACT) schools, 603 additional ACT classrooms, 314 Grade R classrooms and 160 toilet blocks in 2017.
In addition, 74 ACT classrooms were relocated to schools in high-admission pressure areas to alleviate overcrowding. Of the new infrastructure, eight new brick and mortar schools are scheduled to open this month.
Schools and curricula must be designed to meet children’s individual learning needs, and communities and governments can support readiness by offering various levels and types of support, as well as opportunities that assist parents and communities in meeting the developmental needs of young children.
While it is particularly important to consider learners as individuals as they start school, it is also important to acknowledge that children do not exist in isolation, they are members of families, communities, cultural and friendship groups, and so on.
Neither are schools culturally neutral spaces – schools and those within them have a range of expectations that impact on how readiness is defined and enacted.
To meet children’s individual learning needs, the delivery for Grade 11 and 12 literature textbooks and stationery for all learners has been completed.
To address the 2017 furniture needs of the province, orders were placed and deliveries to schools to the value of R26 million commenced in October.
Many people and groups contribute to learners’ readiness – the learners themselves, families, schools and other educational contexts and communities in general. Readiness develops over time and through cumulative experiences and interactions, mediated by relationships.
The GDE is transporting 102 090 learners. Given that most of the learners who migrate from other provinces would stay in informal settlements, this number is projected to go up to 112 300 in 2017.
To date, 1 343 413 learners in 1 621 schools across the province receive a meal at school as part of our School Nutrition Programme. The number is likely to increase to an estimated 1 574 380 due to migration from other provinces.
The department will implement its new approach to scholar nutrition in 2017 after completing an open and competitive bidding process. The GDE wishes all our learners the best of luck in 2017.
Panyaza Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for Education