Action plan for Soweto's ailing schools

Monday, April 11, 2011

Sixty-four of Soweto's 80 schools performed badly in last year's matric exams - ill-discipline, neglect of duties, abuse of pupils, gangsterism and drug and alcohol abuse have been some of the reasons given for the decline in education standards in the Johannesburg township. 

In the 2010 State of the Nation Address, President Jacob Zuma said the country's education targets were simple but critical, urging pupils and teachers to be in school and in class, on time, learning and teaching for seven hours a day. But since that call, instability still plagues schools in Soweto. 

Gabi Khumalo takes a look at some of the challenges facing the schools situated in an area rich with a history of standing up for learner rights and demanding equal education, and what lies ahead. 

Currently, Soweto schools perform at 10 to 15 percent below the provincial average and are amongst the worst performing in the province and, according to education officials, many remain dysfunctional.

Recently, the Gauteng Education Department held a summit that looked at ways of addressing and improving classroom teaching and learner performance. 

The summit, attended by education stakeholders such as religious and business leaders, parents, learners, ward councillors, teachers and principals, saw delegates agree that all schools, teachers, learners, parents and the department would adhere to the non-negotiables - that teachers must teach; learners must learn; parents must provide support to their children; and the department must create a conducive environment for learning and teaching. 

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane has warned that while the province managed a 78 percent matric pass rate and was the top performing province in the country, this achievement will wane if nothing is done to address the current issues crippling schools. 

"The truth of the matter is that education in Soweto has been compromised and is in a state of decline. Teachers seem to have lost the sense of duty that is bestowed upon them by this noble profession. The culture of poor learning, in which learners and teachers are not adhering to the seven hour learning days, cannot go unchallenged.

"Failure to construct a decisive action plan may lead to further deterioration of the situation and unfortunately the African child will be the victim. It is within our power to change the course of events that will derail the education train, it is within us to muster the will to save our education not only for the benefit of the current generation but also for posterity," Mokonyane says.

Pupil, Sibongile Nthiyane, acknowledges that there is a problem with schools in Soweto.

"Education is friends with discipline. If that is lacking, there's no way forward, not all teachers and learners misbehave and we thank all of them who make a contribution to improve the education in Soweto," she says. 

Chairperson of the Soweto Black Management Forum, Solly Moripe, says the summit forms part of existing efforts to transform Soweto schools into centres of excellence. 

In support of the educational interventions that will be put in place, the forum commits to coordinating and implementing educational programmes and to monitor and evaluate implemented programmes.

He says business needs to provide skills development opportunities to educators, pupils and School Governing Bodies (SGBs). 

"The district and schools can use your skills in finance and other disciplines; hence we call you to share your expertise. Our learners are national assets and should take care of them to ensure that they become better leaders....let us use the foresight courage, commitment and dedication," he says.

Gauteng South African Democratic Teacher Union (SADTU) Secretary, Tshidiso Ledimo, says unions will be a part of the efforts to ensure that education takes a step forward. 

"In order to turn around our education system, our interventions should be comprehensive and strengthen the role of parents, learners, government and SGBs."

Rev Gift Moerane from the Faith Based Sector challenged churches to make a difference in education by visiting schools to motivate and promote values.

'We need to take a stand and be prepared to struggle for the good cause. We want to support Gauteng Province and stakeholders. Let's work together to improve quality education in this region." 

Gauteng Education MEC Barbara Creecy believes that the department can turn things around. She said the department is engaging with the labour movement, emphasising that education comes first.

"We will not permit a situation where learners and teachers stop teaching. We believe we can turn things around and go deeper where the problems are," says Creecy.

Stakeholders declared to ensure that learners will do well at school, adhere to the President's non negotiable criteria for learners and teachers to be in class teaching for seven hours and to hold teachers accountable. They added that every learner will do well at school and leave school with the values, knowledge, skills and qualifications that will give him/her the best chance of success in adult life.

"We declare that the education of the Soweto child will no longer be compromised, the provision of quality education in the classroom shall be sole priority of the community, school governors, educators, principals and learners each and every day,' stakeholders declared. - BuaNews