The Western Cape Department of Education has projected that 1 050 000 children will be going to school next year. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency
The Western Cape Department of Education has projected that 1 050 000 children will be going to school next year. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency

Western Cape Education Department making strides despite contrary claims

By Debbie Schäfer Time of article published Nov 26, 2019

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Muhammad Khalid Sayed is the ANC deputy chief whip and ANC education spokesperson in the Western Cape. On the 31st of October Sayed wrote a piece titled "The sad state of education".

Sayed goes on to mention that provincial government failed to carefully plan for the reality of population growth.

In response the Western Cape MEC for Education, Debbie Schäfer submitted a rebuttal to the claims made which was published on the 20th of November in the Cape Argus. 

Both pieces are presented below:

The sad state of education

The state of education in the Western Cape and the decline of it in certain areas is a grave cause for concern. What is more worrying is the rise of persistent school bullying.

As education remains an apex priority for the ANC, it is committed to correct the legacy of apartheid. Dedicated educators are at the centre of ensuring that youth have access to quality education in the safest of environments.

The Western Cape education system is in shambles and regresses by the day. Serious issues range from unplaced pupils who miss out on a year of studying to overcrowding and learners who are forced to platoon (some share schools in afternoons).

All these are failures of the provincial government to carefully plan and budget for the reality of population growth. With over one million learners concentrated in the Cape Metro and Cape Winelands districts, too few schools were built. Like in Mfuleni at Fairdale Primary, learners do not have running water, sanitation facilities or refuse bins.

The ANC vows to continue to raise these issues until the provincial government resolves them. The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) doesn’t care about challenges facing our education, especially in the Cape Flats and other black communities.

The ANC also raised the incidence of bullying, sexual assault and other incidents of violence or attacks on teachers and pupils, both in and out of schools.

Poor and vulnerable children join gangs and many are forced to participate in violence. Erstwhile premier Helen Zille’s Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry made a lot of recommendations to deal with the issue of youth gangs at schools.

A number of teachers have been threatened with retaliation after school. School is supposed to be a safe haven. School violence is commonplace in the province simply because of inadequate security measures and/or infrastructure. Gangs have free access into schools and shootings too often occur within the premises.

In Manenberg a fence remained unfixed for over a year, which allowed gangs to easily enter to sell drugs to pupils. In Belhar a broken fence causes the grounds to be used as a dumping site.

I have raised these issues with Education MEC Debbie Schäfer and, shockingly was told the department would not re-erect broken fences. This, despite her officials admitting WCED has a budget to fix those fences.

What is her department then doing to protect school property from vandalism?

Also, if gangs vandalise school property, why must teachers and learners be sitting ducks for attacks by gangs?

The problem is the attitude of this DA regime. To them, safety is the responsibility of the police only. They also rely too much on a Safer Schools Call Centre, which does not really help.

There needs to be an increased security presence around schools. An alarm system alone is not adequate or fairly distributed. Why are they not fitting CCTV cameras? What are they doing about broken fences? An increased security presence around schools is needed.

An average of two schools are vandalised and burgled daily, with 42 schools targeted in June alone, says the writer. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

There needs to be community involvement in ensuring school safety and doing school patrols. A guard stipend could aid in ensuring school safety.

Our schools across the province are not safe; learners and educators have to go home early because gangs are shooting there.

We need to hold the provincial government and the Education MEC – who mostly wish to close down and demolish schools instead of building new schools and keeping current schools safe – to account.

This administration is mostly concerned with bettering former Model C schools and not paying proper attention to poor schools, especially in our disadvantaged townships.

More fencing of schools in gangridden areas is simply not enough. An average of two schools are vandalised and burgled daily, with 42 schools targeted in June alone.

Lavis Primary School is consistently compromised due to the damage caused by criminals.

In Mandela Park outside Noma Maphingwane Primary School, parents were robbed at gunpoint.

In the meantime, it is crucial to ensure our schools have integrated safety plans which involve management, educators, pupils and parents, circuit managers from WCED, CPFs, street committees, neighbourhood watches and communities as a whole.

All schools must have safety officers. Security checks must be random to keep weapons and drugs from school premises.

The ANC remains convinced that the Western Cape Education Amendment Act legalises the sale of alcohol at schools and fundamentally undermines school safety. Selling alcohol at schools even undermines Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz’s fight against the running of shebeens near schools.

The act is in direct contradiction to the overwhelming public opposition. I see the national minister is to take the provincial MEC to task with regard to these amendments. The ANC welcomes this move.

The ANC is also cognisant that much of the violence at our schools is due to deeper emotional problems that often relate to learners’ social circumstances, such as broken homes and poverty, for example.

Bullying is a case in point in this regard. We need to encourage holistic solutions (including mental health) to these challenges, with education playing its part.

Muhammad Khalid Sayed. Picture: Willem Law/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Factors that contribute to bullying need to be looked at in Life Orientation. Pupils also need to be taught about conflict resolution, diversity and life skills that are positive.

We have seen what happened with physical assault at Sans Souci Girls‘ High School.

Teachers also need to be inclusive, for children to learn about minorities and thereby learn not to bully those who are different to themselves.

Teachers also need to be taught to see the red flag signs of bullying earlier.

More programmes should be introduced for pupils to work together.

This would assist in building unity and close the gap for bullies to develop.

During free time, teachers must be seen and pick up any signs of bullying.

An anti-bullying provision in the code of behaviour should be compulsory for all schools.

* Muhammad Khalid Sayed is the ANC deputy chief whip and ANC education spokesperson in the Western Cape.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Western Cape Education Department making strides

Muhammad Khalid Sayed, the ANC spokesperson for education in the Western Cape, claims that education is an “apex priority” for the party.

He makes this claim in a long list of misrepresentations, distortions and lies published in the Cape Argus of October 31 (“The sad state of education”).

The sad reality is that education is not a priority of the national ANC government, which is more interested in bailing out bankrupt state-owned enterprises (SOE) such as SAA and Eskom, and protecting incapable cadres and criminals in its ranks.

The funds wasted on corruption and incompetence by the ANC, amounting to billions of rands, could have been spent on improving education and the life chances of millions of young people in this country.

Sayed claims that education in the Western Cape is “in a shambles and regresses by the day”.

The sad reality for the country is that the Western Cape is the only province that can demonstrate objectively that the language and maths skills of primary schoolchildren are improving steadily, mainly in poor communities, thanks to systemic testing and targeted support.

The reality is that the Western Cape has the highest school retention rate in the country by a long way with a larger proportion of learners staying in school after Grade 10 to write matric, many with excellent results.

Western Cape has the highest school retention rate in SA despite society’s challenges, says Education MEC. Pictures: Motshwari Mofokeng/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

The Western Cape is the only province to have an independent School Evaluations Authority (SEA) tasked with supporting school improvement, by identifying factors that matter most for quality education, particularly learning, leadership, governance and safety. The reports will be published online to enhance transparency and accountability. These realities do not reflect regression, or a “shambles”.

They reflect focus and dedication by the Western Cape government, principals, teachers and officials dedicated to excellence despite massive challenges, many of them foisted on the education system by the ANC government.

Sayed focuses mainly on school safety, while side-stepping the key principle of shared responsibility, for good reason, given the ANC’s abject failure to ensure adequate policing in the Western Cape, and a failure of the criminal justice system in general, and to address the issue of poverty adequately through sound economic policies.

Grinding poverty is a terrible reality in too many communities, with the associated social pathologies of crime, drugs, violence and gangsterism.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is under no illusions about the extent of this problem.

Our schools and officials grapple with these issues every day. It is worth noting the number of times that Sayed refers to incidents that happen after school or outside of school grounds.

He should know the WCED has no mandate to police communities outside school grounds, but he still holds the department responsible.

He mentions our Safe Schools Call Centre, but makes no mention of our Safe Schools programme, regarded nationally as one of the best of its kind in the country.

We adopt a “whole of society” approach to school safety, where all role-players in every community have roles to play and must work together to ensure the safety of learners and teachers.

Every school must have a safety committee responsible for implementing a safety plan that addresses the specific safety issues of the school. They must work with the police and community structures to address issues that lie beyond the boundaries of the school.

The WCED and schools can only take responsibility for what happens on school grounds. We liaise with the police and other agencies that are responsible for public safety in the broader community.

Sayed takes issue with school fences. We budget for school fences and install new fences systematically according to our annual infrastructure plan and available budget.

We cannot afford to replace fences that are repeatedly vandalised, and will give priority to schools with no fences or that need fences in very special circumstances. Communities must play their part in looking after our schools, including school buildings and fences.

Contrary to Sayed’s claim, the WCED plans thoroughly for years in advance, taking into account population growth, mainly the result of inward migration, and available budget, among many other factors.

A sad reality is that the ANC government is cutting education budgets and refuses to transfer funds equitably to provinces seeing massive inward migration, such as the Western Cape and Gauteng.

The ANC government also agrees nationally to salary increases without providing the funds to cover them, putting more pressure on provincial funds needed for infrastructure, teaching and learning materials, equipment and maintenance. This leaves very little or no funding for additional security systems and guards.

Sayed makes various proposals, all of which the WCED is already implementing or has tried out, with mixed results, including integrated safety plans, community involvement, safety officers, random checks and CCTV cameras.

While the situation is bleak, the DA government of the Western Cape is not throwing up its hands in despair. Premier Alan Winde announced a Western Cape safety plan in September that is the most comprehensive and expensive seen in the history of the Western Cape.

The plan focuses on shared responsibility, with roles for all provincial departments working together with local authorities and relevant agencies.

The plans include 3000 new law enforcement officers and a world-class, evidence-led and integrated violence prevention programme, among many other initiatives. The province expects to spend about R1billion on the total programme.

The plan includes innovative programmes to further improve safety in schools and after-school programmes for learners vulnerable to violence.

Western Cape MEC of Education, Debbie Schäfer visits the secretly located vault that holds all the matric exam papers. Picture: Armand Hough /African News Agency(ANA)

Schools are already participating in the WCED’s extensive “Transform to Perform” strategy that includes a “Values in Education” initiative that encourages learners to reflect on sound social values.

Sayed is wrong when he says that the WCED prioritises former Model C schools. Most of these schools do not need the department’s assistance. We focus almost entirely on where needs are the greatest, in our poorest communities.

Sayed is also wrong in saying that the national minister of education is taking the WCED to task on our policy on regulating adult functions on school premises after school hours, where alcohol may be consumed.

The minister has withdrawn her opposition to these provisions in the Western Cape Provincial Schools Education Amendment Bill.

Important issues raised by Sayed include bullying. Our schools and districts have comprehensive anti-bullying programmes, and the WCED’s anti-bullying campaign has won local and international awards.

We will never stamp out bullying completely. However, schools have taken our Values in Education programme to heart and are providing excellent examples of how to build a school culture based on mutual respect and support.

We will continue striving to realise our vision of quality education for every child, in every classroom and every school, despite the severe challenges we face, exacerbated by the failures of the national ANC government.

* Debbie Schäfer, Western Cape MEC for Education.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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