Good day Education
Gauteng parents with children entering Grade 1 and Grade 8 in 2017 recently got a first-hand taste of the chaos, fear and uncertainty that can surround the flawed implementation of a fundamentally good idea. When changes happen, especially BIG ones, stakeholder engagement and support are critical elements for smooth-running and success. It’s fair to say that the Gauteng MEC for education, Panyaza Lesufi, made little effort to get all stakeholders on board, and instead opted for a “brute-force, my-way-or-the-highway” approach.
Gauteng MEC for Education – Panyaza Lesufi
There’s little doubt that his “online registration is inevitable” assertion is indeed correct. After all, we already order pizza and taxis using cell phone apps. We don’t phone a hotel to see if they have accommodation available and we fight like crazy for our banks to make more online services available to avoid ever entering a branch. So why such resistance in this instance? Why were thousands of people saying they’d rather camp out on the pavement for several cold nights than use their phone or PC to get onto a waiting list? We all get to make some pretty important decisions in our lives, like ‘Who should I marry?’, ‘Which house should I buy?’, ‘Which job should I accept?’, ‘Should I emigrate?’ and way, way up there on the list, ‘Which school should my child attend?’’. These decisions are challenging enough when there are insufficient, accessible, quality schools to choose from. Now bring in a new system reducing our choices (and the feeling of retaining some control of the situation) and the result is a lot of scared people.
In very round numbers, of the approximately 25,000 state schools in South Africa, about 3,000 fall under the control of the GDE (excluding GDE-registered independent schools un-affected by the online system). So ~12% of schools in the country are intended to service ~24% of the population (based on ~13m in Gauteng of ~54m in the country in 2014). So whether you call MEC Lesufi’s plan “visionary” or “boorish”, his noble intentions are hobbled by under-funding and a department seemingly un-motivated to improve, thus creating a perverse and toxic mix (I recommend Graeme Bloch’s book on this for a greater perspective).
The error message thousand of irate parents saw for days.
I appreciate that the MEC says this online admissions data will help his department plan better, but surely we already know the most important challenge? The root cause behind this fear: We don’t have enough classrooms in functional schools with teachers standing in front of children!
The issue of fancy online registration systems is a distraction from the shortage of classroom space. When children are unable to get into even a half-decent school, (and if they do they often have under-trained teachers) does it really matter whether they applied electronically or on paper?
Looking into the future, with the dearth of school-leavers entering the teaching profession and the exodus of teachers and administrators from state employment, we will find incredibly fertile ground for the burgeoning private schooling sector.
Those in a position to consider private schooling may not have to contend with overnight queues and crashing online application systems, but there are still tough decisions to be made. Most importantly: finding a school which clearly demonstrates values, philosophy and actions that match your goals and expectations for your child’s future.
Gavin Kennedy is a Life and Business Coach currently working with Education Incorporated Boutique Schools and Kip McGrath Extra Lessons Education Centres in Bryanston/Fourways & Kyalami/Midrand. Gavin has a passion for changing the way people think, particularly about education, and works tirelessly to promote parental involvement, academic excellence and respect for the teaching profession.