In­de­pen­dent schools can’t lag be­hind as cen­tres of ex­cel­lence

The Sunday Independent - - DISPATCHES -

THERE are few greater gifts one can give a child than ed­u­ca­tion, some­thing for­mer pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela once said “is the most pow­er­ful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

Giv­ing our chil­dren the op­por­tu­nity not only to make their way in the world, but also to make their mark upon it, has al­ways been the rea­son why some par­ents make sig­nif­i­cant sac­ri­fices to ed­u­cate their chil­dren pri­vately.

De­spite im­prove­ments to state schools, when­ever I’ve asked par­ents why they send their chil­dren to in­de­pen­dent schools, the most com­mon an­swers have al­ways been: bet­ter stan­dards of ed­u­ca­tion; bet­ter start in life; more chances in life; bet­ter chances for fu­ture ca­reers; bet­ter dis­ci­pline; and smaller class sizes.

All this sug­gests that we need to look deeper into the sit­u­a­tion of our in­de­pen­dent sec­tor and you will see it is a time of change. The chal­lenges in­clude non-com­pli­ance with poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions; uni­lat­eral ad­min­is­tra­tion and gov­er­nance, so­cial co­he­sion and na­tion build­ing; in­creased num­ber of ex­pelled learn­ers due to non­pay­ment of fees; il­le­gally op­er­at­ing in­de­pen­dent schools and a lack of par­tic­i­pa­tion in in­tra- and in­ter­school pro­grammes.

That is why the Gaut­eng De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion (GDE) this week held a con­sul­ta­tive sum­mit with in­de­pen­dent schools to dis­cuss a range of is­sues af­fect­ing the in­de­pen­dent schools sec­tor.

The sum­mit was at­tended by more than 300 del­e­gates rep­re­sent­ing in­de­pen­dent schools, as­so­ci­a­tions of in­de­pen­dent schools, So­cial Co­he­sion Cham­pi­ons ap­pointed by Gaut­eng Premier David Makhura, as well as of­fi­cials from the De­part­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion. Del­e­gates shared their ex­pe­ri­ences in deal­ing with some of these chal­lenges dur­ing the sum­mit. There were frank and ro­bust con­struc­tive dis­cus­sions, to find com­mon ground on chal­lenges fac­ing the sec­tor.

They also punted how in­de­pen­dent schools of­fer a wider de­gree of sub­jects, and a strong fo­cus on the co-cur­ric­u­lar as­pects of ed­u­ca­tion, such as sport, drama and mu­sic, with greater scope for try­ing some­thing new and de­vel­op­ing tal­ents to ad­vanced lev­els.

We all agree that ed­u­ca­tion at an in­de­pen­dent school is a sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment by any­one’s stan­dards.

Many par­ents forgo ex­otic hol­i­days or new cars, pre­fer­ring to spend the money on school fees.

This re­vealed that mostly rich par­ents send their chil­dren to in­de­pen­dent schools and about half of the chil­dren en­ter­ing in­de­pen­dent schools have par­ents who were ed­u­cated in the state sys­tem. The de­bate also touched on why ed­u­ca­tion isn’t a one-size-fit­sall af­fair. Thank­fully in­de­pen­dent schools, which con­sti­tute 38% of all schools in Gaut­eng, come in all shapes and sizes.

The in­de­pen­dent schools sec­tor is grow­ing at a faster rate than the public school­ing sys­tem although, by way of learner num­bers, 88% of all learn­ers in Gaut­eng still at­tend public schools.

Our prov­ince is home to a se­lec­tion of ex­cel­lent in­de­pen­dent schools, of­fer­ing top-qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and a nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment for a child to reach their full po­ten­tial. No child is the same, and each school has its own ethos to en­sure that your chil­dren get the very best out of their pre­cious school­days.

The wide choice of in­de­pen­dent schools across our prov­ince in­cludes day and board­ing schools – and in many cases schools with a mix­ture of day and board­ing pupils. The in­de­pen­dent schools are al­lowed au­ton­omy on all mat­ters ac­cord­ing to the school’s core val­ues. They are all ad­min­is­tered un­der the same law, and the schools are sub­ject to in­spec­tion.

It is a pity that bo­gus schools, mas­querad­ing as in­de­pen­dent, are quick to take des­per­ate par­ents’ money with false prom­ises for de­cent ed­u­ca­tion. Par­ents must ex­er­cise pru­dence when se­lect­ing schools by thor­oughly check­ing the cre­den­tials of these in­sti­tu­tions so as not to be swin­dled.

That is why the sum­mit re­solved that a dec­la­ra­tion will soon be signed to com­mit par­ties to work to­gether to ad­dress the fol­low­ing is­sues: com­pli­ance with all leg­is­la­tion and reg­u­la­tory re­quire­ments by en­sur­ing, among others, proper reg­is­tra­tion with Umalusi re­quire­ments and com­pli­ance with mu­nic­i­pal by-laws and ed­u­ca­tion laws and reg­u­la­tions.

In­de­pen­dent schools should be sites of ex­cel­lence and there­fore can­not lag be­hind public schools in terms of learner per­for­mance.

In­deed, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism is about recog­nis­ing di­ver­sity. The need for mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism in ed­u­ca­tion should be de­fended as a nec­es­sary el­e­ment of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism in so­ci­ety at large, with schools char­ac­terised as a mi­cro­cosm of the larger so­ci­ety.

Le­sufi is the Gaut­eng MEC of Ed­u­ca­tion. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @ Le­sufi and on Face­book.

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