Whatever Debbie Schäfer decides about serving alcohol on school grounds for adult events, someone will be unhappy, says Mike Wills.
Cape Town - Never believe a politician’s life is easy. Whatever they do, they cannot win. Take Debbie Schäfer, the MEC for Education in the Western Cape.
There’s no doubt plenty of governing bodies have been in her ear about serving alcohol on school grounds for adult events. They want to do that to raise money and entice more parents to come to those events.
Currently that’s all banned because it’s deemed inappropriate and potentially unsafe for any liquor to be sold on educational premises.
Schäfer has listened to those school governing bodies and has motivated for a conditional relaxation of the regulations. That seems fair enough. In this tough economy, schools need any extra funding they can get. And every study shows the greater the parental engagement, the better the educational outcomes.
When a school governing body of which I was a member implemented the letter of this law a few years ago, we received several grumpy e-mails and a marked drop in attendance and revenue from the annual market day. We also, by the way, got a surprise visit from the police to make sure we were complying.
Schäfer is probably aware many schools are either ignoring the regulation as it currently stands or resorting to workarounds. So, why not accept that reality and give the cops one less thing to worry about?
And that’s the cue for some very powerful arguments in the other direction. Alcohol abuse is a far more serious problem in our society than most of us ever acknowledge.
Our province carries the deep historic shame of the dop system and the consequent frightening levels of foetal alcohol syndrome. Counsellors ring alarm bells about the effect of binge drinking on teenage neurological development.
And few of us see the genuine connection between that and parents’ seeming inability to survive a few hours at a social event without liquor.
Wouldn’t it be a symbolic and practical step forward to maintain the clear policy that no alcohol can be consumed on school grounds?
And wouldn’t that make policing easier? And, in a province with a significant Muslim minority, isn’t it a positive signal of sensitivity to refrain? Government policy, nationally and provincially, is to reduce alcohol consumption.
And, anyway, if schools are relying on booze sales to survive, then the funding model needs urgent revision.
Schäfer isn’t suggesting we ply the kids with grog and run shebeens in the playground. Moderate adult consumption of alcohol is a social norm among the majority of us and it remains a legal activity (although Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi seems to be on a crusade to change that).
Surely we can have a sensible regulation which, within tight confines, allows for both views.
And I speak from lengthy experience when I say that, without a glass of wine, many school functions are simply unbearable.