Start school year properly

Parents are excited about sending their children to school tomorrow. Parents who are taking their firstborns to school for the first time, as the songwriter says, “Please Don’t Cry!”

Tomorrow many tearful mothers and fathers will “take leave” of their little ones at school. But beware, these tears may give rise to a feeling of abandonment in children.

Parents must appear to be happy, even if they don’t really feel that way. Children are adaptable and naturally gregarious.

Crying suggests that something unpleasant is going to happen to them.

Fear may build up making the first day and experience distressing.

Assist the teacher by not lingering in the classroom. If possible, take a photo of the child in the classroom (by prior arrangement with the teacher), or with the school as background.

School uniforms should be ready by now and interesting lunches should be preplanned.

The first day at a school (or even a new phase) should be approached with confidence. This event might well be the most important in the child’s life – the parent has to ensure that it is happy and memorable.

Getting to know your children’s friends, their phone numbers, those of the teacher and the school, ensuring that your child knows what to do in an emergency, should be high on your priority list, as well as organising his/her “space” at home. Explain to your child that he or she has a say in the family routine at home.

This will come with the added responsibility that is accorded to her or him.

Just for a moment, spare a thought for the teacher in the schools of the poor who will be welcoming first-timers from child-headed homes, or the homes of the downtrodden, the homeless or in areas such as in Lapland or whatever squatter camp they come from. The children may on arrival from school find that they no longer have a home – eking out an existence has become a way of life, an older sibling has to drop them off before rushing to their schools for them to be on time.

Please, Angie Motshekga, do not suggest we’ve achieved our educational goals! Nor that it can be accomplished in this economic milieu.

As my eyes dim with age, my excitement knows no bounds as we approach the new year. I don’t think that I’ve been this excited about the commencement of a school year for a long time.

Over the past few years the core of a new and exciting generation of pupils appears to have arrived. Another heartening development is that a number of teachers with re-energised enthusiasm seem to have arrived.

Some years ago a few young teachers approached me for advice on how to proceed without their senior staff. I advised them against that, but suggested that they incorporate those apparently reluctant staff members into their plans.

Those teachers are now at the helm of affairs and I’m eagerly awaiting positive developments. For the senior management team, effective planning and even more planning is essential.

Welcoming teachers and parents on that first day with confidence to show who is in charge is vital. Planning the “welcome back” brief/letter for teachers and parents is part of thorough preparation.

There can be no success without sheer hard work, diligence and commitment. I am deeply convinced that if the quality of the feeder schools improves, the quality of the pupils at high schools will improve.

Clustering primary schools around high schools should be on the agenda of all teachers (even if only informally). Interaction – phase/learning area co-operation – involving primary and high schools can only improve education at our institutions.

Despite the negativity in official circles, we, the parents, the teachers and the communities, have to take back our schools for the sake of our children.

Now that the hype, pomp and ceremony around the matric results have subsided we have to take a sober look at the education system in our country and especially in the Eastern Cape. With 1 111 858 pupils having started the school year in 2003, we cannot crow about a 75.8% pass rate.

According to a mere 688 660 or 61.9% of pupils who entered school in 2003 registered to write the matric exams last year. Of the original total registered only 532 860 pupils actually wrote.

This suggests that the actual pass rate, based on the 403 874 pupils who passed, was 58.6%. In real terms, if we consider the pupils who registered in 2003, the pass rate is actually 36.3%.

Let us briefly look at the enrolment figures for these pupils in Grade 10 in 2012 – 1 065 329 pupils. What happened to the almost 400 000 pupils last year?

Were they languishing in Grade 11? How can consideration be given to celebrations of the matric results by the authorities when these statistics are taken into account?

Enough of playing around with statistics. The education set-up necessitates intervention!

The education landscape mirrors the major contradictions in South African society. There are two systems in our society: quality education for the moneyed class and education for the poor.

Early childhood development (ECD) schooling, so important in the formative years of children, has been sadly neglected in the schools of the poor. There is also a known critical shortage of foundation phase teachers.

Besides this, the ageing personnel between the ages of 45 and 55 (of which the Basic Education Department is aware) is cause for grave concern.

How many children are not in schools? According to the Mustadafin Foundation report dated July last year, 650 000 children of primary school-going age do not attend school.

In addition to this the minister has announced that she “favours” closing more than 1 000 schools in the Eastern Cape alone.

That would constitute approximately 17% of the schools in the Eastern Cape.

Is this an attempt to resolve the “over-supply of teachers” in the Eastern Cape Education Department? Most of the schools that will be affected will be in the rural areas.

This in turn will mean that children will have to travel longer distances to reach their schools or leave their homes to try to get an education. Further, hostels for the poor of this country are either non-existent or in short supply.

Most, if not all, ex-Model C schools have historically been furnished with hostels. This would then mean that children would have to stay with “strangers” (even at hostels) in their formative years.

The most critical sociological effect of these school closures is the resultant denuding of communities of their normal child population. This is inhuman.

How can we divorce the children from their parents at this crucial stage of their development? What will be the effect of this on the children, on the parents, on communities and basic local culture?

The closing of 1 000 schools would considerably add to the number of children not at schools, especially in the Eastern Cape.

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