While the outcome of the process is not yet set in stone, the Eastern Cape education department should tread very carefully over plans to shut down schools that the government does not consider viable.
The national policy is an attempt to rationalise and eradicate schools which do not make the cut when it comes to numbers, but with almost 50 schools affected in the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage districts alone, we are talking about a marked impact on both children and entire communities.
These are, for the very reason they’ve been singled out, small institutions – many of which are situated in rural areas – where multi-grade teaching takes place and where, because of this, teachers are in tune with the specific needs of individual pupils.
To take children out of that environment and place them in a much larger and, in all likelihood, highly urbanised schooling structure could very well impact negatively on their performance and expose them to outside influences they are ill-equipped to handle.
We are told time and again, specifically by the education authorities, how vital – and under-emphasised – the role of parenting is in a child’s education.
And yet here is a situation where, in many cases, that crucial input will be removed if parents are forced to put their children in school hostels far from home.
The assurances by the department that it will not dive into this process hastily and that the circumstances surrounding every affected school will be thoroughly assessed, are encouraging.
This must, by necessity, be a methodical evaluation of the benefits and drawbacks.
Because not only are pupils going to feel the brunt – to a lesser or greater degree – but also families for whom the local school is, as one principal put it, the heart of the community. Let us proceed with caution.