EDUCATION specialists say there should be no concern over the decline of 9 percent in the number of public schools and that pupils should rather be moved to functional schools with quality teachers.
The SA Institute for Race Relations released data from the Department of Basic Education this week which said between 2000 and 2011, the number of public schools in the country fell by 9 percent. This relates to six of the nine provinces.
In the Western Cape, 53 schools have closed between 2000 and 2011 and in the Free State, 1 167 schools closed in the same period. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of schools in the country decreased from 26 789 to 24 365.
Alan Clarke, former principal of Westerford High and education consultant, said he did not have a problem with schools closing, as long as pupils were moved to more functional schools.
He said many of the smaller schools in rural areas had teachers who were not properly equipped.
“This is not an ideal model. The only value those schools have to pupils is that they are close by. If we can get the pupils to schools where teachers are better equipped and schools are more functional then that is a positive sign,” Clarke said. Education specialist Graeme Bloch agreed and, while he did not support the closure of schools in the province, he was more concerned with the quality of teaching at public schools.
“We must not lose focus of public schools because this is where most of the children are. Fixing public schools must be a priority. School closures can be done if they are done logically and with a lot of consultation. The solution is to get the core (public schools) of schooling fixed,” he said.
Bloch said the reasons for schools underperforming had to be remedied.
Jonathan Snyman, researcher at the SA Institute for Race Relations, said the decline in the number of public schools should not necessarily cause alarm. “The majority of public schools are under-resourced and the closure and merging of smaller schools with dwindling pupil numbers helps to free up resources,” Snyman said.
Clarke added: “The big problem is the quality of teachers. I think there is good value in moving children to functional schools with quality teachers. There shouldn’t be concern over the decline in the number of public schools, it means we are closing schools that are not viable.”
The key to more functional schools was quality teachers and a good principal that would create an environment where teachers could do their work with proper resources.