Maverick Citizen

Opinionista

What lurks beneath the school placement fiasco in the Western Cape

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Dr Seelan Naidoo is an activist, researcher and principal associate of Public Ethos Consulting. He holds a PhD in Organisation Studies and Cultural Theory. Dr Lydia-Anne Plaatjies is the executive director of Active Citizenship (www.servantleader.co.za), an education activist and researcher, who holds a PhD in Education.

The Western Cape Education Department’s poor administrative procedures and systems force desperate families to navigate a confusing and expensive school placement process, thereby creating a dire situation for families that cannot afford these costs.

This year, thousands of mostly black children have been negatively affected by the lack of adequate classroom capacity in the poorer areas of the Western Cape. This fiasco, which opposition parties in the Western Cape provincial legislature, education activists and NGOs have been highlighting for several years, is indicative of the Western Cape Education Department’s (WCED) persistent ineffectiveness in carrying out this crucial provincial function.

An excerpt from a letter written by a concerned parent to the WCED serves to illustrate the frustration of thousands of parents with the WCED’s policies, practices, and administrative systems:

I applied to five high schools via the online system and subsequently submitted the supporting documents to the schools. So far 3 schools has rejected my application on the basis that the schools are Maths and Science focus schools.”

The parent went on to ask the following questions:

“What is the purpose of the online application system if it only means applying and then still having to go and take the hard copies to schools and schools reject you? The school then gets the option to manipulate the system by rejecting you on the basis of an incomplete application when you have submitted all documents. Who monitors and tracks this system that excludes our children?”

A question asked by a teacher in a Whatsapp group for concerned parents and educators further illustrates the frustration being experienced:

“Can someone explain to me why they pushing so for the online system? What is the benefit of it? Almost all my Grade 7 parents struggled with it. A few of us at school set up our laptops and scanners and assisted the parents after school.”

This situation prompts substantive concerns about monitoring and accountability within the WCED’s school placement system.

Although most provinces struggle to place all children on the first day of school due to late submissions, capacity issues and high demand for certain schools, the situation in the Western Cape points to a deeper and more serious crisis of racial inequity, a lack of transparency and administrative injustice that we feel duty bound to ventilate in public.

This situation is disturbing, especially in a province that receives substantial public funding from the national government for basic education. It raises serious questions about the allocation of the WCED’s increased R2.54-billion budget that was earmarked last year (2022/23) specifically for school infrastructure maintenance and the building of additional classroom capacity.

In the ongoing school placement fiasco in the Western Cape, David Maynier, the DA MEC for Education, has resorted to misdirection in an attempt to shift blame for the persistent shortage of school capacity for poorer children, most of whom are black.

In a recent opinion piece in the Cape Argus on 10 January 2024 a week before the opening of schools, Maynier preemptively blamed the national government for the WCED’s failure to ensure adequate capacity and timely school placements as required by Section 29(1) of the Constitution.

However, examining the facts of the basic education landscape in the Western Cape exposes Maynier’s clumsy attempt at a cover-up and calls into question the perception that the DA-led government utilises national public resources equitably and more effectively than the governments of all the other provinces.

1.⁠ ⁠Budgetary mismanagement and inequitable allocations to poor schools

Over the past four years (2019/20 to 2022/23), the WCED returned R829-million to the national fiscus due to under-expenditure. These funds were crucial for addressing inadequate school capacity and to improve the quality of education in impoverished areas of the Western Cape and especially in the City of Cape Town. The annual reports of the WCED can be found here.

In the 2020/21 fiscal year, during the first waves of the Covid-19 pandemic, the WCED returned R556-million, including R196-million earmarked for school infrastructure, reflecting a policy position of withholding resources that has negatively affected basic education in poorer communities.

This racially skewed crisis persists despite a 48% increase of the 2022/23 budget (to R2.54-billion) for school infrastructure. This again calls into question the WCED’s policies and its decisions about allocating these resources across the schools in the province.

In 2023/24 the school infrastructure budget increased again to R2.74-billion, an 8% rise under challenging fiscal conditions nationally. This further exposes Maynier’s deceptive and nonsensical explanation that the lack of school capacity in 2024 is due to a drop in the allocation of infrastructure funds in the 2023/24 fiscal year.

2. Racial disparities in the provision of basic education

If the WCED had been serious about building school capacity for poorer communities and in improving the quality of learning and teaching in those communities, it was undoubtedly provided with substantial resources by the national government to do so over the past four years – resources that ultimately were not used for these purposes and returned to the national government or were allocated to other purposes in the province.

A 2022 study by the Equal Education Law Centre revealed a range of issues that disproportionately impacted black children from poorer urban communities, and this again highlights the racial inequity in the DA-led WCED’s policies and practices.

Visits to public schools in poor areas which are predominantly attended by black children reveal stark, persistent and even worsening contrasts in infrastructure (buildings, grounds, facilities and equipment) when compared to public schools in more affluent areas which are predominantly attended by white children.

Thus, it is very surprising that the DA is now demanding additional powers from the national government when it is failing to fulfil its current responsibilities in one of its most important provincial functions.

3. Administrative failures and unfair circumvention of WCED processes

The WCED’s poor administrative procedures and systems force desperate families to navigate a confusing and expensive school placement process, therefore producing a dire situation for families that cannot afford these costs. In many cases children that are placed get placed at schools that are far away from their homes, thus incurring further cost burdens for those households that often struggle to put food on the table.

The situation has become so fraught that it even led DA MPL Gillion Bosman to invite disgruntled parents on a Whatsapp group for parents of unplaced children to contact him directly to intercede on their behalf. As a provincial politician, Bosman’s questionable intervention in the WCED’s published school placement process for some parents that have access to him further exacerbates the problem of administrative injustice (queue-jumping, preferential treatment, political interference) and leaves him open to the charge that he may be unduly influencing school placements for political gain.

In relation to the questions asked by the parent quoted above, it is evident that there are serious concerns that need to be addressed urgently, not only from an administrative justice perspective, but more substantively from the perspective of racial prejudice and the constriction of the rights of many children to basic education.

4. The declining quality of education outcomes

The prolonged lack of school capacity for black children has resulted in a decline in the WCED’s matric pass rate, which has fallen to fifth place among the provinces in 2023. In a recent article, Stellenbosch University’s Prof Nicky Roberts and co-author of this article, Dr Lydia Plaatjies, highlighted this outcome, linking the decline to neglect and under-resourcing of secondary schools attended by black children.

They also found that the quality of matric passes had dropped significantly among schools in poorer communities, stating that “if the DA wanted to play politics with the matric results, it may be worth noting that only 26% of bachelors passes came from no-fee schools in the Western Cape. This is a damning finding in terms of equity and redress for the DA-run province.”

5. Anti-constitutional policies and the need for action against the WCED

The WCED’s evident pursuit of an anti-constitutional education policy and its failure to effectively fulfil this crucial provincial function prompts this clarion call for action.

Against the backdrop of such inequity, ineptitude and public deception, the DA’s demand for more provincial powers in the Western Cape is preposterous.

Considering the seriousness of these interrelated issues, a complaint is being prepared and will be lodged with the Public Protector and the South African Human Rights Commission to request these Chapter 9 institutions to investigate the WCED’s policies and resource allocations which, prima facie, are prejudiced against poor black children and may cause incalculable damage to their prospects.

It is hoped that the outcome of such investigations and the intervention of the national government will help to force the DA-led WCED to alter its current trajectory of racial discrimination and public deception towards greater equity, transparency, accountability and better service of the public interest in the spirit of our Constitution. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Stucke says:

    Lots of accusations of racial discrimination, but zero evidence.

    The authors can do a lot better.

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Excellent comment, thanks.

    • Geoff Coles says:

      Does it not begin with parents not registering their children for school well in advance….. every year, the same thing.
      Mind you this anti DA Provincial Government article is clearly electioneering and written by two ‘ one-man’ individuals with axes to grind.

  • Michael Brasler says:

    As an educator in a Western Cape school, equally concerned about the lack of adequate schooling, particularly for the poor in our province, I would welcome a clear response from WCED. Is there truth in this allegation that Maynier’s assertion that national raked back funds earmarked for building schools is a lie? Or is this article mearly electioneering by proxy?

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      At least some one in the WC is morally honest.
      Loop holes in the best governed province.
      If you cannot perfectly run a spaza shop how do we trust you with running a wholesale.
      The thumb has a habit of pointing in reversal.

  • Camille Augustus says:

    What a poorly written article, with a political purpose only. It is also such hogwash. Nowhere does it look at other Provinces and why Western Cape schools are in demand. Children falling into pit latrines in other Provinces. As an SGB member, I can tell you that former, general ex “model C” schools get very little funding from government – the Education budget goes largely to poorer schools in the Western Cape. Parent of all races (Model C is a rainbow nation now: definitely not considered “white” schools anymore!) pay from their disposal income to appoint more teachers, manage facilities, etc. We pay for EVERYTHING! In other words, we are sacrificing A LOT to fund what should be government schools – it’s largely not government money. So take your populist, electioneering statements somewhere else.

  • Gillion Bosman says:

    I am not sure what facts you relied on to craft this opinion piece, but to characterise my assistance to my constituents as “a questionable intervention” is problematic.

    As a member of the Provincial Parliament and Constituency Head assigned to the Eerste River area, it is my responsibility to assist constituents. For the record, I did not create a WhatsApp group; I was added to a WhatsApp group set up by “education activists”, and instead of allowing political opportunists to use vulnerable parents, I then offered to assist parents who are struggling to get feedback from schools and the WCED by asking the Standing Committee on Education through the procedural officer to communicate with the department. The department then individually contacted parents. My “questionable intervention” also included assisting parents to get to the WCED District offices in cases where they did not apply in time.

    It is important to be honest about the challenges we face in education in this country. These challenges relate to structural issues in the system as designed by DBE, but we also have to be honest about the resource constraints we have. We do not have enough schools, and our national government has cut budgets to such an extent that we cannot build enough new schools to meet the demand.

  • Steve Davidson says:

    But not one comment about the continual influx of economic refugees from the ANC’s disgraceful and corrupt rule in the Eastern Cape? Two and a half MILLION of them in Khayelitsha alone?

    • M D Fraser says:

      I was about to make a similar post. There is a saying “build it and they will come”. The more WP provides the more will flock in from EC. That is no doubt the master plan anyway, to overwhelm the demographics in Western Cape. The ANC learned this from the NP, i.e. the delimitation committees.

  • Lynda Tyrer says:

    Odd because Gauteng admissions system is all on line and parents cope. This whole artucle sounds racial and complaint. Kids need a good education you have kids you make sure they get the best education and if needed make sacrifices. This seems to be an attack on the DA nothing to do with black at all who incidentally get a lot more handed to them these days isnt it time this victimhood stopped.

  • Deon Botha-Richards says:

    A blatant political attack.

    If this is a racial problem effected or propagated by the DA led government please explain the complete lack of school provision over the last 20 years in the Ballitoville area in KwaDukuza. An historically white area.

    This once coastal holiday village has become a bustling large town. Population has increased 7 fold.

    There isn’t a single government high school in the town and only 2 primary schools. Not a single government school has been built to match the growing population.

    Only private schools have been added and these are out of reach for financially for the majority.

    One single development has added 3,000 homes in the last 3 years. That alone would warrant one school.

    Over 10,000 other homes have been built and many holiday homes have become permanent residences.

    Every attempt by the citizens to get the Department of Education to build even a single school has collapsed, even when land has been offered.

    So come, tell me about racial discrimination here.

  • Palesa Tyobeka says:

    Thank you so much for this well researched and factual article. This has always been the case in the provision of education in the Western Cape with the true picture obscured on the services provided to the historically advantages. Africans in the Western Cape are forever treated as second class citizens.

  • Palesa Tyobeka says:

    The hysterical response to the article is again informed by a blind defence of the DA and has nothing to do with the facts on the ground or the lot of African children in the Western Cape. This is not a comparison of the Western Cape with other provinces but what is really happening in the Western Cape with respect to provision of services to Africans. Those who complain about lack of evidence probably do not know that they are supposed to click on the pointers the article provides. Western Cape has kept up the illusion of providing quality education by diverting attention to areas that were always better off because of skewed and abhorrent Apartheid funding policies. The DA-led government has failed in the one thing they should have done right – bring services to the poor in the province to be on par with the rest. We will never make this country better as long as our focus is on the DA vs the ANC. But I suppose not many are concerned about that because they are sitting comfortably where they are. And the DA guarantees them cotinued privilege

    • Karl Sittlinger says:

      Funny how both the authors and you have completely forgotten to mention the national treasury budget cuts:
      “Over the past 5 years, on average, the number of learners in Western Cape schools has increased by 19 000 each year, and additional learners continue to need places every year.

      To address this demand for placement, the Western Cape Government passed the largest budget for education that our province has ever seen in March 2023, including a R2.9 billion infrastructure plan to build 21 new schools and 289 additional classrooms at existing schools.

      This plan was to build on the success of the Rapid School Build programme implemented in 2022, and our delivery of 788 additional classrooms for the 2023 school year, which was a dramatic increase in the pace of delivery compared to previous years.

      However, in June 2023, our plan came to an immediate halt when the National Treasury indicated that there would be serious cuts to our provincial funding, but that they could not specify how severe these would be.
      The National Treasury has since decided not to provide all of the funding owed to our province to cover the wage increase it negotiated for public service in this financial year. Instead, our department will only receive 64% of the funding due to us, which means we are being short-changed by R537 million.”
      And yeah, the comparisons became valid the moment the authors criticized the DA without mentioning the reasons for most of these failures being ANC created.

    • chris smit says:

      Apart from the last link leading to a News24 article which I cannot access despite being a subscriber, I find nothing in support of the rubbish published by these to learned educationists

  • Annie Conway says:

    What a lovely bit of DA bashing. Eeish ….

  • Denise Smit says:

    True to form from kadre Naidoo. Politicking for the ANC

  • bulumko lusu says:

    Thank-you for this well written piece. Much food for thought.

  • Ritey roo roo says:

    This is a hatchet job of an article with an agenda. One wonders why so many of these types of articles appear in the DM.

  • Roger Sheppard says:

    Palesa Tyobeka, read Karl Sitllinger again. Then get a spot and – personally – watch the E Cape buses arrive. Ph D means nothing to those who do not use it…properly! Think: Nat Minister pre-1994, a Ph D from Oxford whose thesis was on Separate Development – and he ended up marrying a girl of colour! Qualifications are not always the hallmark of a generous soul.
    …and stop bashing the DA for Goodness Sake! Or are you in a state of fear!

  • Axel Rose says:

    Interesting that no mention is made of the African black kids who take busses and taxis into other “Coloured” areas and claim places of said Coloured kids. Some people can’t get their kids placed in their own areas yet kids from other areas are getting easier access to these areas due to the color of their skin. There’s a whole lot of forced demographic ‘transformation’ happening under the hood in Cape Town.

  • Paul Johnston says:

    I am surprised that DM publishes this sort of vitriolic invective which seizes on a few unqualified factoids to bolster their exaggerated and untested claims. This is not journalism. It is not even researched. The authors claim to have PHDs, but this capability is not apparent or reflected in this article. To add further insult to a wider audience, Cape Talk chose to have ‘Dr’ Naidoo
    on the radio where he was unable to explain the quintile funding model.

  • Eddie B says:

    The moment I read: “thousands of mostly black children”, “the situation in the Western Cape points to a deeper and more serious crisis of racial inequity”, and “This racially skewed crisis persists” … I knew this was going to be baseless racial rant against the DA. You didn’t disappoint. (I am not a DA member, I don’t have to).

    By my uninformed logic, and based on the figures you offered, 67% of the funds returned to treasury was during the first wave of Covid-19 (you wrote it there yourself). If you had applied your logic and memory you would have realized we had a hard lockdown. We ALL had to stay home. For weeks and later months. I don’t know how you build a school if all the labourers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters work from home. Perhaps you can help us here.

    I didn’t make it to the end of the article. Hopefully you two don’t write for a living.

  • Suran guest says:

    Verified, R829m returned to fiscal coffers and no can argue the issue doesn’t exist. What other evidence should there be and who else could be responsible. The WCED did not use the resources it had at it’s disposal. And now I guess it’s migrants and central government that is to blame….that’s just weak.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    You should be both embarrassed and ashamed of yourselves.

    Ill researched, misinformation like that published here does untold damage to the future of all our children.

    It also degrades and disrespects the tireless work being done by the Western Cape in the face of ridiculously difficult challenges continually placed in their way by a useless national government and consequent diminishing funds.

    Shame on you both. You make me want to weep for our children whose futures you betray.

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