Why school governing bodies are the key to better education - News24

23 May 2018 - The Education Charter released this week by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) aims to give parents control of schools. IRR research shows that greater parental involvement in schools leads to better outcomes – and educational outcomes in South African schools are dire.


Marius Roodt

The Education Charter released this week by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) aims to give parents control of schools. IRR research shows that greater parental involvement in schools leads to better outcomes – and educational outcomes in South African schools are dire.

A child entering grade one today has only about a 50% chance of receiving a good matric pass, and being well prepared for the world of university and work.

Schools in South Africa are being held back by a combination of factors. These include hostile trade unions, lack of resources, and an emphasis of ideology over pragmatism.

The current failure of South African schooling to prepare our children to be productive and happy citizens is one of the biggest failures of post-apartheid South Africa. Although there have been many successes in the years since 1994 – the huge increase in the numbers of people attending university, the rollout of basic services, and the decline in poverty are a few of them – the failure of our schooling system is a blot on the record of post-apartheid South Africa.

Some 70% of schools do not have a library, 80% do not have a laboratory, and 60% do not have a computer facility. At the same time the proportion of people passing matric with good marks is low. For example, in 2016 only 13% of people managed to pass mathematics with a mark of 60% or higher. The proportions for other subjects were similar: only 17% of people passed accounting with a mark of 60% or higher, only 15% managed this mark for physical science, and only 13% achieved 60% for mathematical literacy.

What should concern us all greatly is that those who suffer the most from poor outcomes are black children. The educational outcomes of black scholars and students at school and university is worse than that of their white counterparts. This is because while richer schools are now mixed and reflect South African society in all its diverse richness, poorer schools with poorer outcomes are almost exclusively black. This is further reflected in the high drop-out rate of black students at university, and higher unemployment rates among black people, especially the young.

The IRR seeks to change this by putting power back in the hands of parents and communities. We have developed an Education Charter calling for politicians to heed the call of parents. Parents and concerned community members can make sure their voice is heard by signing this charter and helping to put pressure on the government.

What are some of the ways that parents and communities can have more say in schools?

First, school governing bodies (SGBs) should be strengthened, contrary to the current trend, where the government wants these bodies weakened. One could argue that not all SGBs have the capacity to manage schools. In these cases, everything should be done to strengthen and empower people serving on these bodies. SGBs are an important component in ensuring that schools are run for the benefit of those attending them, rather than vested interests such as unions, and empowering them to do this properly is vital. SGBs, along with the broader group of parents and community members, have the right to decide what is best for their children in terms of schooling policy – curriculum, ethos, and so on.

South Africa should also look to charter schools. These are schools which have been sold either to educational entrepreneurs or charity organisations, or even surrounding communities. These types of schools are popular around the world. They often provide a better education than what is available in equivalent government schools – they are not reliant on the government for funding but rather those who attend the school. If parents and the surrounding community lose faith in the school the number of pupils attending will decline, making the school unsustainable and leading to its closure.

Finally, the government can look to providing education vouchers to people with children of school-going age, which they can use at any school. These vouchers, which would be funded from the education budget, would give parents more choice about where they send their children. The vouchers could be used at government schools (whether a former Model C school or not), charter schools, or independent schools. This would give parents more choice and not force people to rely on what could be a sub-standard government school delivering a poor level of education.

Supporting the IRR’s Education Charter will give parents an opportunity to put pressure on politicians who too often act as a law unto themselves. The phrase: "Children are our future" may be hackneyed and clichéd, but it is true.

However, with the current state of the South African education system, it is an open question whether there is much of a future for South Africa’s children to look forward to. The IRR’s Education Charter is an important part of giving control of schools back to parents and communities, and ensuring that the country has a bright future, reaching the potential that we all know it has.

- Marius Roodt is a campaign manager at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR). See more details of the IRR’s campaign here.