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State of disaster exposed educational disaster spanning decades; finding solutions is possible and vital

The state of disaster in South Africa exposed an educational disaster spanning decades and with the re-opening of the country's schools, the spotlight is sure to fall on the educational system's shortcomings once again. Schools in coastal provinces are scheduled to re-open this week, while learners living in the interior returned to school last week.

Various role players have indicated that there is no longer any sense in imposing lockdown regulations on schools. It is in the best interest of education not to repeat any of the rotation and other restrictive measures this year, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.

The underlying problem is the ANC government's approach to education. Instead of expanding infrastructure and actively supporting underperforming schools, the focus seems to be on constraining schools, which succeed in combining good management with professional education, by means of overregulation. In addition, the possibilities offered by home-schooling are also being neglected or restricted.

In terms of post-1994 ANC policy, an equal amount of money is spent on each learner, except in schools where no school fees are levied – there even more money is allocated for each learner. The gap between schools that have developed or retained a strong learner culture and those that did not has widened significantly. And then learner numbers increase with tens of thousands every year, but infrastructure development does not take place at the same rate.

The greater demands placed on infrastructure by the scholastic years of 2019 and 2020 brought the true potential of online and home-schooling to the foreground.

It is difficult to determine how many scholastic careers were able to continue without too much disruption by using these forms of teaching seeing as schools employed these methods differently. It is, however, clear that it did alleviate the pandemic's detrimental impact on education somewhat.

There are different approaches within the context of home-schooling. Some home-schools follow the same curriculum and rhythm as any ordinary school, except for the fact that it happens at home and usually with the aid of online service providers.

Others have an alternative approach to education and use everyday life and work situations as learning opportunities so as to create a more integrated knowledge base. Before transitioning from one phase to the next, tests are used to determine whether the required standards have indeed been met.

The task of provincial departments that shoulder the responsibility of providing education can be eased significantly by embracing the various forms of home-schooling as valuable contributions to education. Furthermore, resources can be more effectively allocated to schools if those schools that are able to successfully provide education are regulated less.

Even independent schools, which educate learners of school age without placing any demands on the government, can help reduce the pressure on the Department.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Department of Basic Education would rather lower educational standards for the sake of equality than accept guidance from successful public schools, independent schools and home-schooling organisations.

A shining example of this is the draft Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA), which the Department plans to launch through legislative processes this year. According to BELA, public schools' governing bodies are subjected to stricter departmental regulation and home schools are also further restricted.

While the road to effective education runs through greater community involvement and commitment from parents, the government's strategy appears to include efforts at diluting these in favour of greater state control. It is regrettable that the government cannot seem to learn from its own mistakes, or the successes of others.

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