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Phased re-opening of schools underscores the value of community-driven education

(Debate in parliament on re-opening of schools)

Community-driven education offers much greater benefits than education controlled by the government. This is clear from the phased re-opening of schools after the general closure during the period of lockdown.

During a parliamentary debate on the re-opening of schools, the FF Plus pointed out that community-driven schools acted as strong allies in the re-opening process because they already possessed the systems and the will to resume education as soon as possible. These schools, however, had to defend themselves against various attacks on their independence from the education departments.

Home-schooling, a form of education that the Department restricted instead of facilitated with its many regulations, also became an unexpected ally to the Department.

Children who are unable to return to school due to underlying medical conditions or children with parents for whom the risk of contracting Covid-19 is unacceptably high, are able to home-school. This also helps to keep the number of learners in schools lower, which makes it easier to maintain the prescribed social distance.

Because the crisis was too extensive for the Department to handle, smaller and independent schools were allowed to re-open on condition that they comply with all the safety measures.

This not only helped to increase the chances of the children in these schools to overcome the crisis, but it also helped the Department to establish best practices. Numerous lessons were learned and these can now be applied in the general re-opening of schools.

Even though the Schools Act of 1996 describes public schools as schools managed by the school community, the national and provincial departments have gradually eroded these powers. Language and admission policies were the constant targets of the government’s interference.

But many schools regained their independence during the lockdown crisis. These schools are encouraged to hold onto these recent gains.

The Covid-19 crisis has weakened the government so that the same degree of power can no longer be exercised over schools. Schools that willingly sacrifice their newfound independence will do so at the expense of quality education and communities' control over institutions that they hold dear.

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