17 May 2022
Equal Education media statement: New Western Cape Education MEC must build relationships with school communities to understand and address education challenges, including schools being unsafe
As David Maynier officially starts his new role as Western Cape Education MEC, Equal Education (EE) urges him to prioritise being in conversation with school communities, the drastic improvement of safety at schools and sorting out the school admissions crisis in the province. This leadership change is a moment to assess what the provincial education department has done so far to transform the education of the over one million public school learners in the province, many of whom continue to experience the effects of a schooling system that was made to exclude them.
During Debbie Schäfer’s eight years as Education MEC, EE’s learner members had to fight far too hard to get her to take school safety seriously. She infamously called our 2016 school safety audit report “loose papers and vague allegations”. She also introduced new models of schools that hand over the control of public schools to private organisations, without proper accountability.
However, we did appreciate the times that Schäfer met with us directly, and we acknowledge some positive aspects of her leadership. When the national Department of Basic Education (DBE) suspended the National School Nutrition Programme when all schools closed because of COVID-19, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) committed to continue to provide school meals. Notably, the department also succeeded in securing an additional allocation of R7.91 billion to its budget over the next three financial years. The WCED plans to spend most of this money on infrastructure, and some on hiring more teachers which will help to reduce overcrowded classrooms.
This is an important time for us as learners, teachers and parents to push for what needs to be at the top of MEC Maynier’s agenda. The three key areas that we want to see MEC Maynier focus on during his term in office are:
Consulting with EE, school communities and other civil society organisations
On his first day as education MEC on 16 May, MEC Maynier promised to listen to, learn from, and engage a wide variety of education stakeholders to help develop priorities for his department. This commitment is encouraging. Listening to and learning from the lived experiences of vulnerable learners is especially important, and EE and other civil society organisations fill a vital gap by giving government deeper insight into the challenges faced by marginalised communities.
As a mass movement of high school learners (Equalisers), parents, teachers, and community members, EE’s work is informed by thousands of grassroots voices and careful research, and constructive engagement with our members is vital for informing the WCED’s policies. This can bring about much-needed change to the schooling experience for those learners who need it the most. We call on MEC Maynier to avail himself to consult EE members and to be responsive to the issues they identify on the ground!
The safety of our schools
Since 2015, EE Western Cape members have been campaigning for safe schools, highlighting the harmful impact that gangsterism, drugs, and violence have on their learning. Equalisers tell us that these challenges continue in their schools. They have identified these pillars of school safety that need attention:
- Access to counsellors, psychologists and social workers;
- Proper training and support of school safety committees (who are responsible for developing, implementing, and monitoring the safety plan for their school); and
- School security infrastructure (such as proper fencing and working alarm systems).
These needs have become even more urgent since the outbreak of COVID-19. For example, the number of learners who needed psychosocial support increased, and the national Department of Basic Education (DBE) and provincial education departments struggled to meet this demand. An EE survey of Equalisers in the Western Cape, conducted in July 2020, found that two thirds of the Equalisers who participated did not have someone at school to speak to if they were feeling scared or sad. Shockingly, nearly three quarters of the Equalisers who were surveyed said that when they returned to their classrooms no one explained to them how they could get psychosocial support.
The closing of all schools during the pandemic also left schools vulnerable to vandalism and burglary. One month after South Africa went into a hard lockdown, the DBE reported that 397 schools across the country had been vandalised (57 in the Western Cape). But even when open, schools are vulnerable to theft and vandalism. While security infrastructure alone can’t make schools 100% safe, they are important for preventing crime at schools.
The school admissions crisis
Every year, thousands of Western Cape learners do not have a place at a school at the start of the year, threatening their right to basic education. Three days after the 2022 school year started, 469 grade 1 learners and 2 620 grade 8 learners were still unplaced. We want to remind the new MEC of his duty to ensure that there is a place at a school for every learner in the Western Cape – the South African Schools Act demands this.
We are looking forward to building a productive working relationship with MEC Maynier. The WCED is accountable for and to school communities. We hope that MEC Maynier’s appointment will mean that the WCED shows more care and proactiveness in meeting the needs of poor and working class school communities.
To arrange a media interview, contact: Jay-Dee Cyster (Equal Education Communications Officer) email@example.com or 082 924 1352.