THE Progressive Organisations’ Formation (POF) expresses outrage in this statement at the victimisation of teachers and principals by the Western Cape Education Department.
The extreme poverty and inequalities within present-day South Africa has been unmistakably exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the education arena, as elsewhere, the health disaster fell disproportionately on the oppressed and poor communities. In June, while the COVID-19 crisis was raging uncontrollably, the education authorities forced schools to re-open despite wide-spread opposition.
The resultant crisis compelled teacher unions, concerned community-based bodies, political organisations and parties to fight back. In the Western Cape, this action resulted in the formation of the Progressive Organisations’ Formation (POF).
From its inception, the POF has mobilised against the injustices and inequalities underpinning the public education system, which during the pandemic manifested in insufficient PPE and safety protocols in countless public schools. In response, many teachers, especially those with co-morbidities, were reluctant to report for duty and some principals – with the support of their SGBs – opted not to open schools. The Western Cape Education Department (WCED), without delay, threatened teachers and principals with disciplinary action.
The most prominent disciplinary case is the WCED’s present attempt to dismiss the principal of Heathfield High School, Wesley Neumann, who rightfully refused to open the school because the necessary health and safety precautions had not been put in place by the education department.
The POF immediately took up the battle against the victimisation of teachers by the education authorities as certain school principals were set on doing the WCED’s dirty work. Since June, the POF has continued to stand in solidarity with the Heathfield High School community and now its action committee to defeat the onslaught of the WCED bureaucrats. These officials are intent on disciplining a principal who put the safety of the school and community ahead of the demands of the education department.
The victimisation of Neumann, however, cannot be separated from the ongoing crises of poverty and inequality in education.
South Africa’s education and socioeconomic inequalities
Our country’s deep-seated inequalities stem from its market-driven socio-economic system, which works to increase the wealth and privileges of a rich minority at the expense of the poor and exploited majority.
The education authorities serve to reinforce the gap between well-resourced schools for children of the wealthy and the under-resourced schools for children from poor, oppressed and exploited communities.
The Western Cape’s provincial minister of education, Debbie Schafer, and Brian Schreuder, the head of education, are examples of the guardians of the affluent schools that have benefitted from apartheid.
For the POF, Schafer and Schreuder are ruling class agents determined to preserve society’s ‘race’ and ‘class’ divides and inequalities. Through their actions, the WCED bureaucracy are criminalising resistance against the glaring injustices in schooling and education by victimising progressive educators acting in the interest of their communities by advocating for free, quality and equal education for all.
The POF rejects the privatisation of schooling
The WCED blatantly promotes the privatisation of schooling, which threatens to place formal education beyond the financial means of the majority of people. Certain affluent schools charge an annual fee of over R200 000 per learner, which most South Africans cannot even earn in a year.
This elitist brand of schooling excludes the vast majority of impoverished South Africans – people who have zero income, are grant-dependent or are working in poverty.
As only two to five per cent of wealthy South Africans can afford the cost of private or high fee-paying schools, the majority of learners are left with under-resourced, inferior education. Based on these facts, the POF declares that in order to start equalising the schooling system, the state must immediately address the backlog in under-resourced schools, provide sufficiently for all schools, abolish private schooling and not allow schools to charge user fees. When the burden of subsidising schools is shifted onto parents, schooling becomes commodified through ‘user-fees’.
Consequently, the school’s resources – infrastructure, number of teachers, safety and security personnel, amongst other necessities – are dependent on how much money a child’s parent/s or guardian/s earn. This financial responsibility reproduces both educational and socio-economic inequalities.
The burden on poor schools to themselves deliver a quality education is therefore unjust as the education department has abandoned its responsibility to employ more teachers and provide proper infrastructure.
Because of the department’s financial neglect, poor schools are forced to cover the cost of maintenance and municipal services. Failure to pay these utilities, has resulted in schools having their water and electricity disconnected – services which are basic human rights, and essential for a healthy teaching and learning environment.
The current socio-economic model of schooling is clearly and narrowly limited to producing labour that creates enormous wealth for the few. It equally disregards the immense potential of the vast majority of working-class youth.
The fact that thousands of students are annually unable to afford and thus enter a higher education institution of any form, shows how the system works against poor school communities.
Featured image: Members of the Progressive Organisations’ Forum protest outside the Western Cape Education Department offices in Cape Town. (Photo ABDURAHMAN KHAN)
This statement first appeared in the October 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.