A critical look at the state of education in the Western Cape as we celebrate 25 years of the Constitution
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by Muhammad Khalid Sayed
When we observe the 25th Anniversary of the Constitution of our Republic, we must be able to acknowledge that one of the most potent means through which we can live this Constitution, advance this Constitution and make this Constitution a reality in our country and province, is through quality education from kindergarten to post-matric.
This Constitution, which we are celebrating here today, endows us with the imperative of education as a basic human right and not a privilege. Education is a constitutionally-enshrined right and must be provided to all - without any forms of discrimination.
Section 29 of the Constitution stipulates that [and I quote]
“Everyone has the right -- to a basic education, including adult basic education and to further education, which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.”
The same section goes on to state that everyone has the right to education in an official language or a language of their choice in public institutions.
Yet even more so, the Constitution, which we praise here today, imparts on the state an obligation to ensure equality and the need to redress the results of past racially discriminatory laws and practices.
The Constitution, which we commend, imparts on provinces the competencies of basic education. Sadly our province has successively failed to implement measures that will ensure equitable quality education to all our children and young people.
For example, in this province, since 2009 we have witnessed a consistent failure to ensure that the results of the past, racially-discriminatory laws and practices in our province have not been addressed.
The large lacuna in quality of education in township schools compared to the education received in the suburbs remain alarming.
Our educators, parents and governing bodies in our poor areas, poor areas because of our past, continue to be subjected to the most trying conditions in which to pursue the education of their children.
Even worse still, it is these very same schools who receive the hardest time, if not downright bullying, from the leadership of the Western Cape Education Department.
In the Western Cape, there are valid grounds to believe that the provincial government is in contravention of Section 29 of the Constitution.
Earlier this year, a group of parents from various communities in the province took the MEC of Education in the province to the Constitutional Court to demand the right to education for their children.
What we have is a structural crisis and a systemic inequality in education.
Every year the schools in poor working-class communities experience the same challenges of overcrowded classrooms, a shortage of teachers and thousands of unplaced learners, the majority of whom miss out on the entire first quarter of schooling.
In the more affluent and well-resourced schools, it is not uncommon to have classes with less than 25 learners per class.
While these schools never experience challenges of unplaced learners, the majority of these unplaced learners being Coloured and African, the learners who apply at these schools are rejected, even though they applied timeously and provided all required documents.
There is also a dominant racial and lineage-based admissions policy in a number of former Model C schools in the Western Cape, which is used for gatekeeping and rejecting students from poor backgrounds.
This time last year, our country was seized with the blatant racism that occurred at Brackenfell High School.
The Education Department whitewashed Brackenfell High School. We are still waiting for a preliminary report from the South African Human Rights Commission on what happened at Brackenfell High School – a year later.
Members of the Western Cape provincial legislature across the political spectrum have been calling for a transformed and uniform admissions policy for all schools in the Western Cape.
We have also advised the MEC and the Western Cape Education Department to consider increasing class sizes in the former Model C schools as a mechanism to address the challenge of overcrowded classrooms and the crisis of unplaced learners.
These measures would be an attempt to provide the type of education that our Constitution insists upon. Sadly, the current system only widens and exacerbates inequality in education and the broader society.
* Muhammad Khalid Sayed is the ANC deputy chief whip and the spokesperson on education in the legislature.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.