STATEMENT: WHY COOL HEADS ARE KEY IN CURRENT SCHOOLS CRISIS
Recent days have witnessed tensions at an Eldorado Park Secondary School and new ones at primary schools in Schweizer-Reneke and in Matatiele.
The common theme at all three schools is focused on race exclusion.
At first glance, all acts of discrimination and exclusion must be condemned in the strongest terms. This, regardless of whether these relate to allegations of parents and pupils preventing African teachers from assuming teaching responsibilities in Eldorado Park or children seemingly being separated by race in Schweizer-Reneke and Matatiele. The fundamental constitutional values including democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom must remain sacrosanct. These values must be actively promoted by both government officials, the wider school community and members of the public who choose to weigh in on the current tensions being experienced in these areas.
The integration of school systems into a single, national department in 1994 was a high-risk enterprise and its effects continue to be felt. These strains manifest in debates around private vs public education (rich vs poor); the role and responsibilities of school governing bodies (SGBs); role of home language on education outcomes; school leadership, and qualifications of teachers, amongst many others. These are vexing concerns and must be dealt with in a responsible way, underpinned by section 29 of the Constitution. Resorting to conclusions that might inflame tensions do not serve any purpose and have the effect of harming the very constituency that we seek to protect. The interests of children must not be held ransom by political or other interests.
In the instances cited above and in others that may come to light in the future, it is key for all stakeholders to ascertain the correct information and follow due process. It is imperative that school leadership and management, as well as SGBs, are consulted. Further, that government officials at provincial and national level engage responsibly and constructively to address issues and concerns that seek to undermine what is in the best interest of the child and to act per section 28(2) of the Constitution and the Children’s Act.
It is vital that schools do not become a proxy nor a political battleground, literally and figuratively. Political parties and partisan organisations must not exacerbate an already inflammatory situation. Parents, students and school management have a responsibility to use existing mechanisms for their concerns to be articulated. These include access to training on transformation, diversity training, conflict management and pedagogical tools that promote a rich and diverse learning environment. The dividends of opting for this approach - as opposed to resorting to violence and use of racial slurs - is a key lesson for future generations.
Cool heads are needed to de-escalate the current tensions so that the new school year is a productive and memorable one.
By Ms Zohra Dawood, Director