by Muhammad Khalid Sayed
The beginning of each academic year is a memorable moment, as learners take their first steps into schools.
It brings joy to parents, but it can also be an emotional time as they watch their children cry, fearing the unknown within the classroom walls and away from their parents. Educators carry the responsibility of soothing these hysterical cries as they guide the learners on their initial journey towards becoming future leaders.
However, this is not the experience for many parents in the Western Cape, as thousands of learners are without school placements.
The DA continues to make reckless calls for devolution of national powers, while it fails to deliver on its constitutional mandate to ensure that every child of school-going age is at school.
Since early 2023, we have witnessed an alarming number of parents reaching out to us, sharing their tales of frustration as their children remain unplaced in schools, despite applying correctly and on time.
Our efforts to bring these concerns to the attention of the MEC’s office and senior management within the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) have yielded only partial success. While some cases have been resolved, a significant number remain unresolved, leaving families in uncertainty.
MEC David Maynier’s department has exacerbated the situation by instructing parents to seek assistance at District Offices instead of schools. This imposes an additional financial burden on poor parents, as these offices are often far from their communities.
This highlights the DA-led administration’s uncaring attitude and disregard for the poor and deserves widespread condemnation. The correct approach is for the WCED to dispatch district officials directly to schools to interact with parents and learners.
Until now, the DA has not demonstrated transparency regarding the precise count of learners who remain unplaced. In 2023, we submitted several written questions to the MEC in an attempt to obtain a clear understanding of the total number of applications received and the subsequent successful placements.
The MEC failed to provide a comprehensive response, demonstrating a deliberate effort to avoid accountability and hide the severity of the crisis.
In November, the WCED said it received more than 22 000 late applications, and anticipated additional applications during the first term of the 2024 academic year. In December the MEC further claimed that his department allocated places for 99.43% of applications received for Grades 1 and 8.
Only 688 learners, constituting 0.56%, were still awaiting placements. According to the MEC, more than 170 of these cases were classified as late applications.
This is a blatant untruth designed to mask the real crisis and with the intent to scapegoat learners from the Eastern Cape as the cause for the crisis of unplaced learners in the province.
Annually without fail, a significant number of learners, primarily from black communities (African, coloured and Indian), face the unfortunate reality of missing the first week and term of the academic year due to a shortage of placement spaces.
The persistent crisis of unplaced learners is not solely attributed to late applications or learners from the Eastern Cape; rather, it stems from various factors. Discriminatory admissions and language policies, the WCED’s inadequate planning and shortcomings in building new schools, along with technical glitches in the online application system, collectively contribute to this ongoing crisis.
Many parents applied correctly and on time to over five schools and were rejected by all of them. In many instances, no reasons were provided for the unsuccessful applications, or they were just given the standard reply of schools being oversubscribed.
The majority of former model C schools in the Western Cape have employed admission and language policies as tools of discrimination, exacerbating racial inequalities by acting as gatekeepers against black learners.
Additionally, the fact that these schools have been allowed to maintain class sizes well below the average learner to teacher ratio, exacerbates the unplaced learner crisis. It is also an injustice as most schools in poor working-class communities are forced to admit more learners, leading to the crisis of overcrowded classrooms and teacher shortages.
The passing into law of the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, which the DA and their moonshot allies oppose, will help address a number of these challenges, particularly the discriminatory admission and language policies.
* Muhammad Khalid Sayed is a Member of the Western Cape Provincial Legislature and is the ANC spokesperson on Education and writes in his personal capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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