His department is battling to cope with high volume of applications for schooling, but Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi vows to overcome the challenges and reclaim the number one spot
It’s the tiniest of South Africa’s nine provinces yet it attracts the largest number of learners. After the Western Cape, Gauteng is the leading destination for today’s learners and people in general — local and multinationals — seeking a better life.
Gauteng MEC for education Panyaza Lesufi can be likened to Sisyphus, who in Greek mythology was forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back each time. Despite opening a new school every month in the province, Lesufi still does not have enough schools to accommodate the throngs of learners swamping his province. This year he is set to open eight new, state-of-the art schools in Gauteng. “We are swamped,” he admits, quickly adding “but we will overcome the challenges”.
Race against time
Bringing a glimmer of hope is that of the 58 000 local applications, Lesufi’s department was able to place almost 51 000, with about 7 000 learners still outstanding. But there are still 12 000 applications from outside the province and the country; demand for a place in a Gauteng school is high. Lesufi is definitely racing against the clock, as he has to ensure there are no learners who will be forced to sit out this year due to lack of space. He has hit the road running, holding meetings with several schools outside the “system” so that they can accommodate outstanding learners. “There is hope,” he says, “but it all depends on the parents.”
Role of parents
The role parents play in the education system can never be overemphasised. Lesufi is pointing his finger squarely at them for the quandary he finds himself in. His online registration system was introduced last year and is commendable, though the glitches it came with did not make things easier, as hoped. Critics were quick to point out the system penalises rural and disadvantaged parents, due to their lack of access to the internet and their not knowing how to use it. In high-pressure areas, there was reluctance, resistance and even refusal by some parents to accept the allocated schools.
But Lesufi is unfazed. He emphasises the inevitability of technology, asking “is a cassette better than a CD”? Stressing the virtues of online registration, he argues that the system promotes access, transparency and allows for proper planning: “But more than anything else, the online system is to actively engage and partner with parents in the educational sphere, and we will continue with it.” A quick glance at the department’s website shows that there is plenty of information on how parents can apply for schools for their children next year, and where to go to when encountering problems.
It is a source of pride for Lesufi that Gauteng has earned the third spot for the highest pass rate of the 2016 matric learners countrywide. Not content with a bronze medal, Lesufi says the department is going all out to claim the number one spot in the current academic year. He says despite the challenges of a not-so-ideal high teacher-pupil ratio as a result of being swamped, he was confident that with the co-operation of learners, teachers and parents they will be able to weather the storm.
What was further encouraging for Lesufi is the fact that rural and township schools performed excellently in the 2016 matric exams. “It was schools from these areas that did exceptionally well in the past matric [exams]. This goes to show that our long-term, pro-poor strategy of offering no-fee schools, a feeding scheme and transport for learners, is paying dividends,” he says. It was schools in areas such as Magalies, the West Rand, De Deur in the south as well as various township schools that hit top marks for matric. Lesufi said Tshwane and Bronkhortspruit did not do that well, which was a concern.
Poor maths and science passes
The province did not impress in maths and science, subjects Lesufi thinks are critical; he says South Africa in general has to stop relying on foreign expertise and broaden its knowledge base. He believes the National Democratic Plan target of 350 000 maths passes and 320 000 physical science passes by 2024 is achievable, despite the challenges. Asked whether the 20% maths pass mark introduced by the national department last year was ideal, Lesufi was quick to point out that it was a once-off thing. He said that further discussion was planned about this and other issues at an education indaba scheduled from January 23 to 25.
On why so much attention was being placed on matric results, Lesufi says it was critical we do not lose the spark of matric results; without it, the whole educational system could collapse. “The pressure of matric examinations has the tendency to bring out the best in learners. We dare not lose that spark.”