Mark Malabver | Stop paying lip service to our education system
Recently in Parliament, the acting Minister of Education Karl Samuda indicated that one of his new policy initiatives would be to pair schools that are deemed as standard of excellence with those that have not been performing well. The objective behind this is to improve the standards of performance in those schools.
Minister Samuda, while being a neophyte to educational leadership and management and as old as he may be, is certainly presenting some fresh ideas that will no doubt result in improving the education system as a whole. To this end, he must be commended. He seems to have indeed found a new lease on life. I am also very mindful of his humility and the ease with which he interacts with educators. He is also obviously listening to key ministry technocrats. I indeed find these qualities quite refreshing, especially when compared to his predecessor. The honourable minister has his work cut out for him.
PAIRING OF SCHOOLS
However, while educational administrators within the system have much to gain from the pairing of schools, that in and of itself will not solve the issues within schools. The fact is that many of the schools that are doing well have very strong support, including financial. This financial support often comes from parents, who place a high value on education, past students and companies who are keen to associate themselves with success.
If we are serious about disrupting the narrative and breaking the back of this apartheid education system, then there must indeed be equity in the financing of schools. Simply put, a broad-brush approach cannot be taken. The unit cost to educate a child attending an upgraded high school invariably will be much higher than the unit cost to educate a child in the traditional high school.
LITERACY AND NUMERACY LEVELS
The fact is that the literacy and numeracy levels of many of the students entering upgraded high schools are much lower in comparison to traditional high schools. This is simply due to the fact that the apartheid education system sifts them through the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) and now the Primary Exit Profile (PEP). These students come to the table with major behavioural challenges, nutritional challenges and resources challenges. Oftentimes the parents have poor parenting skills and do not value education.
FUNDING OF UPGRADED HIGH SCHOOLS
Therefore, much more work will need to be done by teachers and administrators in the upgraded high schools to bring the students up to minimum standards that are deemed acceptable by the society. Unfortunately, since the introduction of the tuition-free policy, in which parents are not mandated to pay anything to the schools, the disparity in the availability of funds between upgraded high schools and traditional high schools have got wider.
On an annual basis, schools are asked to submit a budget for special projects and resources within their schools. These projects may have to do with renovation of classroom spaces or buildings, or just obtaining additional resources for teaching and learning. Whenever these projects are submitted to the Ministry of Education, 90 per cent of the time they go nowhere. Oftentimes when the funding is even forthcoming, it is not even a drop in the bucket, compared to the original request.
FUNDING OF THE APSE PROGRAMME
The Alternative Pathways to Secondary Education (APSE) programme had been rolled out in the high school system (particularly the upgraded high schools) some two years ago. The APSE programme places students on pathways, which should better enable educators to cater to their level and needs.
Notwithstanding the fact that the APSE approach is essentially a response to the failings at the primary-school level, and the grand announcements that were made that adequate funding was in place for the programme, that funding has clearly not manifested itself. Many schools are still awaiting resources that were promised but never delivered.
Schools are asked to develop school improvement plans (SIP). These plans are primarily guided by the National Education Inspectorate (NEI) reports, as well as the critical self-evaluations that school must do prior to drafting the SIP. A critical component of the SIP is putting together a budget that will help to drive the plan over a five-year period. This budget is submitted to the Ministry of Education. Many principals in the upgraded high schools will tell you that perhaps half of those plans are never achieved in the cycle because of inadequate funding.
BUREAUCRACY WITHIN THE EDUCATION MINISTRY
The bureaucracy within the education ministry is also another issue that helps to stifle the progress of many upgraded high schools. The time it takes to get permission to employ teachers is very frustrating for many administrators in upgraded high schools. Oftentimes it takes months before there is a response from the ministry. Oftentimes when the services of teachers are engaged, they wait at least three months before they get their first pay cheque. I have not even begun to speak to the length of time that it takes teachers to start getting their correct salary, because their qualifications will first have to be verified by the education ministry. I have known situations where this process takes years. This helps to cripple the morale of teachers who are already living hand-to-mouth due to their meagre salaries. I have been to many meetings where this issue has been raised by school administrators, yet there seems to be no end in sight to this and other issues.
Let’s stop playing lip service to our education system; the issues faced by upgraded high schools are real and ever present. I have had my fill of grand announcements and optics. As a system, we must move towards social justice for all. Equal funding of schools must be replaced by equitable funding of schools.
The bureaucracy within the Ministry of Education must be addressed once and for all. There must be greater dialogue between administrators and the ministry, and the ministry must be more responsive to the issues raised in these dialogues.
Principals are the ones that are on the ground on a daily basis and they know what the issues are within their respective schools, and the ministry should support them to achieve the strategic objectives of the ministry within their respective schools.
There is a culture within the education ministry that while they preach equality, some schools are more equal than some. That is very evident in how some schools are treated in comparison to other schools. That, too, must change.
In the meantime, I am mindful of that phrase which says that “No nation can rise above the quality of their own education system”.
- Mark Malabver is the principal of Yallahs High School, a PhD candidate in Educational Leadership and Management and chairman of the Inner-city Teachers Coalition (ICTC). Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org