STAND UP FOR THE RIGHTS OF LEARNERS

Education is the foundation of opportunity.  Every parent wants their children to do well so they can get ahead in life and reach for their dreams.  Sadly this dream in the Eastern Cape continuous to be a nightmare for many.

It is not just a question of unstable leadership – Mandla Makapula is now the 5th MEC since 2004. It is also not just about poor systems, management and corruption. It is also about poor infrastructure. Of the 5 588 existing public schools 21% are without electricity, fencing and security. Twenty percent are without water supply, 90% have no libraries or laboratories.

In the Nelson Mandela metro in 40 % of the schools 75% or more of the toilets are malfunctioning and in 20% of the schools no toilets work. When you drive down Heugh Road in Walmer spare a thought for Walmer High where classes of sixty have to share textbooks and there is no electricity in the classrooms.

Sixteen years into democracy -the deafening silence from civil society with one or two exceptions such as Rhodes vice-chancellor Saleem Badat signifies all that is rotten with his nightmare called education in our province. Another generation of learners are about to be condemned to an inferior system which severely limits their future opportunities in our knowledge based economy. With many schools once more having no stationery,  no scholar transport for 100 000 pupils and with the debacle surrounding the gap left by the cancellation of 6 000 temporary teachers contracts one would have expected an outburst of anger from leaders in civil society.

Where are the marches and protests against this new form of oppression that condemns largely poor, black learners to an ongoing poverty trap? Have the leaders in civil society become so co-opted by the ruling elite either by fear or favour that they lack the moral backbone to hold the ruling ANC accountable for the ongoing misery that they are inflicting on our society. Shame on you!

Why is it, ask some people, that it in the Western Cape scholar transport still operates, textbooks are delivered on time and new schools are being built? Part of the answer lies in the effective governance that takes place under the Democratic Alliance ruled province.

Every provincial department and public entity received a clean audit unlike our province where our education department in particular — which is responsible for almost 50% of our provincial budget — continues to receive disclaimers since 1994. This means the money cannot be properly accounted for.

The former superintendent- general of education in our province is on record as saying last year that the system is rotten to the core and 90% of top management is doing business with the department.  This corruption is one of the reasons why education is in such a mess. This is why stationery could not be delivered on time this year.

In the Western Cape the DA passed legislation to outlaw civil servants doing business with province. I have tabled a private members bill in the provincial legislature in Bhisho which would also make this law in the Eastern Cape.

The Western Cape has also passed legislation that allows for increased accountability. Principals and deputy principals will for the first time have performance contracts directly linked to learner outcomes achieved in their schools. The legislation also gives the right to inspect schools with a view to assess teacher performance in the classroom in line with national and provincial norms and standards.  My colleague Edmund van Vuuren, DA provincial education spokesperson, will be pursuing these ideas in the provincial legislature this year.

These two pieces of legislation if approved in the Eastern Cape will assist in improving opportunity for our learners so they can reach their full potential through a good education.

Without a good education system our economy will never grow at the rate it should and without a growing economy and an increased tax base there will not be the funding for social services. This is why education is important as it ultimately impacts on our whole society.

It forms the basis for breaking out of the poverty cycle that so many families in the Eastern Cape remain trapped in. The better your education the better chance you have of finding employment. This is why it is such an integral part of our vision of an Open Opportunity Society for all.

One can only salute those many individuals and organisations that are trying to make a difference against all odds. Keep it up. It is these pockets of excellence that give us hope.

But ultimately our society as a whole needs to stand up for the rights of learners.

Yes learners have rights too not just the unions. The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of the latter. It is time to put learner’s rights at the centre of the education system not just those of the unions.

The parents of learners can stop being willing instruments of their own oppression and take a stand for the rights of their children. They actually hold the solution in their own hands. Yes it is only by holding the ANC fully accountable for this tragedy by means of a general revolt at the ballot box that the ruling party will wake up from its state of complacency and learners of this province get the education system they so richly deserve.

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