It is that time of year when those parents who made no efforts to pay school fees last year and those pupils who think they can flaunt the school rules suddenly find themselves at loggerheads with the school authorities.
They use the opportunity to run to the press or to the political parties as both are happy to stand up for them against the “tyranny” of the school principals.
In the case of the political parties, they are also prepared to bend the truth considerably as a Communist Party spokesman did (“Pupils barred over ‘levies, holiday hair’ ”, January 22) when he stated the government paid for the schooling and not the principal. If he were to tell the truth, he would say the government is supposed to pay for schooling but, as it does not, the principal has to scrounge for every cent to keep his or her school operating.
Let us look at the facts, and not the political version, about the finances of a school in the so-called disadvantaged areas of Port Elizabeth and the surrounding areas, as most of your readers probably think the principals are unreasonable people from what they read in the press and hear from the politicians.
I have chosen a high school in the Schauderville area as an illustration.
The figures and information given are for the last departmental financial year (April 2013 to March last year) as the current year is still in progress. This school is particularly hard hit as it is classified as a quintile five school for determining its financial allocation.
This is the same quintile as that on which schools like Grey, Collegiate, Pearson, Alexander Road, Framesby and other former Model C schools are funded. These schools charge parents about R20 000 per pupil per year to add to their departmental allocation to keep the schools running effectively.
Much of this fee income is to cover salaries of staff because of the completely inadequate staffing of schools under the present government. In 1994 a school of about 1 000 pupils was allocated about 50 teachers, today it will get about 30.
In contrast, the provincial department of education is over-filled with highly paid officials who take a disproportionate amount of the departmental salary budget.
All northern areas and most township schools were originally on quintile five, but most have managed to get onto a lower quintile, which in some cases classifies them as non-fee paying schools. The attempts by the Schauderville school to move to a lower quintile have met with no reaction from the district or provincial education department offices.
The “domain” used to determine the quintile of a school depends on income, employment, education and living environment “deprivation” in the area around the school. Residents of Schauderville will be delighted to know that, in the eyes of the education department, they do not suffer any deprivation in these areas.
The total departmental monetary allocation received by the school for 2013-4 was R114 840 or R183 per pupil.
This has to pay for stationery, learning and teaching material, education consumables, maintenance and municipal services.
If each pupil were to receive a good bilingual dictionary (the majority of pupils are Xhosa speaking) this would use up at least two thirds of the allocation, leaving next to nothing for lights, water, stationery, maintenance or anything else.
Present departmental staffing allocations for schools mean that every teacher and principal must be teaching every period with well over 30 children in the class.
Anyone who has been to school will know that high schools have subject choices and that not every class will have about 35 pupils, some will have fewer and some more.
In addition, senior staff, especially the principal, have heavy administrative burdens so they cannot be expected to teach all periods – nor can the ordinary teachers. This pushes the numbers even higher in the classes.
To offer anywhere near reasonable education, with even a limited subject choice, the school must employ additional teachers who have to be paid by the school. The departmental allocation cannot be used for salaries and, in any case, it is insufficient to cover the basics that it should be covering.
At this school, like very many others, the department does not pay for a single non-teacher. There is no cleaner, secretary, bursar, gardener, handyman or tea lady paid for by the department.
A parent volunteers as a secretary, and a bursar and a cleaner are paid from school funds. To pay the bursar, the cleaner and the two or three dedicated teachers who are prepared to work for the salaries the school can afford, an annual school fee of R1 000 was charged per pupil for last year.
A fraction of the parents paid this. Most of the parents live in the townships as, compared to schools near them, the Schauderville school is an attractive option.
They have to pay hundreds of rand per month on transport and subsequently cannot all afford the school fees. Taxi drivers are obviously better revenue collectors than schools are, which shows where our priorities lie! Where should our priorities lie? The press should be emphasising the problems about funding rather than naming and shaming principals for trying to collect a fairly distributed contribution towards school funds from the parents. The press should also be supporting the schools and the principals when rules are broken – our society is ill-disciplined enough without support from the press for all the petty complaints of pupils.
Of all complaints, those about hairstyles that do not comply with school rules must be the most trivial. We need to start moving our emphasis from the rights of everyone to their responsibilities as members of the human race.
The political party representatives could ensure the government does pay for education if they want to state that it does. They need to put themselves in the shoes of a principal or teacher for a week or two to see what it means to make a contribution to the improvement of society.
This country is already full of people, companies, organisations and businesses that have to provide what the government fails to provide because of the way it wastes money – as indicated daily in our media. Many caring people, particularly women in the townships, have to volunteer their services in a variety of spheres so that the lives of our people, especially our children, can have some meaning.
Some businesses and organisations are doing a lot, but there should be many more who could sponsor the salary of a teacher, a secretary, a cleaner or any other helper at a struggling school. Many could provide basic equipment or furniture.
To see the delight of the staff at the Schauderville school last year when they received a photocopier that worked must have done the heart of the donor a lot of good.
The response was so much better than that he or she would have received after paying a large sum for another advertising board around the sports field of a school which does not really need the funds.
How does this struggle to survive impact on the results of the school – insufficient money, insufficient equipment, insufficient support from the department of education and so on.
The school in Schauderville managed a 90% Grade 12 pass rate in 2013 and an 82% pass rate in a very tough year for it last year.
Considering the lack of parental support, the quality of pupils with which the school has to work and all its other hardships, this is a far better result than a 100% pass mark at a school which is very selective about its intake of pupils, where the pupils receive all types of support at school and at home, and where no cost is spared to ensure the pupils are provided with everything.
The school in Schauderville and schools like it are the types of schools that deserve much more support from the community.
They are the schools that will move our population out of the poverty cycle.
– Lionel Heath