Independent schools can’t lag behind as centres of excellence
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.