28 April 2021
Joint media statement: Western Cape Education MEC Schäfer must fulfil her responsibility to develop long term solutions to the yearly school admissions crisis, instead of making false claims about Equal Education and Equal Education Law Centre being unwilling to help
Last week, in a media statement on the school admissions crisis, Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer claimed that Equal Education (EE) had not provided the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) with “any verifiable data” on the number of learners in the province who had not yet been enrolled at schools. “This is most unfortunate as we [the WCED] had hoped to have assistance in this regard”, she said. EE and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) want to put it on record that MEC Schäfer’s comments are false.
At the start of every year, there are thousands of learners who are unplaced at schools in the Western Cape, and in anticipation of this we wrote to MEC Schäfer on 23 October 2020, to raise our concerns and to ask about the WCED’s plans for the placement of learners for 2021. Our two organisations stressed the need for the WCED to develop well thought through, clear plans to address the yearly crisis. MEC Schäfer’s response to this letter was dismissive and did not provide a plan.
Regarding the unplaced learners in Eerste River specifically, which MEC Schäfer refers to in her statement, we do have a verifiable list of learners with information from a group of over 100 parents who have given EELC a legal mandate to represent and act on their behalf. The list was given to the WCED on 14 April 2021, before the release of the MEC’s media statement, to assist the WCED and ensure that learners from Forest Village in Eerste River have a seat in a classroom.
We are focused on the best interests of learners and the right to basic education, and that is why we try to support the WCED by bringing urgent matters to their attention. For example, last month, based on feedback from EE’s parent members and the EELC’s clients, we wrote to the WCED asking for the deadline for admissions for 2022 to be extended, to ensure that parents/guardians are given enough time to enrol their children. We are disappointed that despite the clear negative impact of COVID-19 on schooling, the admissions application period for 2022 opened so early this year and for a very short time (one month), while the WCED was still trying to find schools for learners for 2021! The WCED then did extend the deadline for applications, but only by four days.
Parents/guardians face many challenges when applying for their children to be enrolled at school. The economic consequences of COVID-19 have made it even more difficult for them to access the necessary information and devices to complete online applications, and to travel to schools and the WCED district offices for assistance with applications. EE’s parent members held a protest to highlight these difficulties and to appeal for help for specific learners who didn’t have schools to go to.
This is not the first time MEC Schäfer has claimed that we have not given her “verifiable data”. In 2015, she accused learner members of EE (Equalisers) of providing her with “loose papers and vague allegations” when we submitted the findings of our social audit on school safety and sanitation to her.
Civil society plays an important role in supporting government, but it is the responsibility of MEC Schäfer and her department to produce data on the number of learners not enrolled in school, as well as a proper plan to urgently fix the problem. Publicly blaming our organisations for such information not being available, is an inexcusable failure to fulfill her responsibility.
While some temporary emergency measures, such as mobile classrooms and additional teaching posts, have been introduced by the WCED to place learners at schools, we have not yet seen a realistic long-term plan that will ensure that the admissions crisis does not continue year after year.
MEC Schäfer needs to understand that budget constraints do not absolve her of her statutory responsibility to ensure that all learners are in school, and to develop proper, clear plans to do so.
To arrange a media interview, contact:
Jay-Dee Cyster (Equal Education Communications Officer) firstname.lastname@example.org or 082 924 1352
Tad Khosa (EELC Media and Communications Coordinator) email@example.com or 081 346 0180