Fri Oct 28 12:28:37 CAT 2016

Teacher unions oppose ‘experiment’ to partner education with private companies

FARREN COLLINS | 19 October, 2016 06:15
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If the Western Cape education department has its way, private donors will have a majority say in how public schools are run, including over the school's finances, governance and policy.

A draft bill by the provincial department suggests the establishment of collaboration schools based on a public-private partnership where public schools are partly funded by private donors and administered by school governing bodies (SGBs) made up of parents, teachers and operating partners.

Teacher unions and civil society organisations say such schools would be unconstitutional and an attempt to privatise public education. But education experts laud the initiative, saying it will provide quality education for the poor.

According to the amended bill, SGBs at collaboration schools would give majority voting rights to operating partners representing private donors, allowing them to decide on school finances, governance and policy. Public submissions closed last month.

Department spokesman Jessica Shelver said SGBs would still be accountable to the province for the school's performance, even though teachers' contracts would no longer be with the department, but with the SGB.

CEO of the South African Teachers Union Chris Klopper said the proposals contravened the South African Schools Act and were not beneficial to teachers.

"These are serious deviations and won't convince us of the merit of establishing collaboration schools," Klopper said.

"[Teachers] will not be allowed to be members of the government employees' pension fund, nor would they qualify for the [state] medical aid fund."

Yesterday, Deputy Minister of Basic Education Enver Surty said he had not looked at the draft legislation but that teacher unions were unhappy.

"You are basically taking away the management from the public and placing it in the hands of the private sector ... There will be issues of language, transformation, issues of access, issues of fees, all that comes into play," said Surty.

The Western Cape education department started the first of a five-year pilot project of the model at two new and three existing no-fee schools in poor communities in the province earlier this year.

Donors - which include the Millennium Trust, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and First Rand Empowerment - committed R23.5-million in funding during 2016 towards additional personnel, infrastructure improvement and after-school programmes.

NGO Equal Education described the model as flawed and unsustainable, saying it would lead to further inequality.

"To provide quality education is the responsibility of the state," said Equal Education general secretary Tshepo Motsepe. "The result [of these schools] could be a scenario in which private actors are benefiting from norms and standards for infrastructure-compliant schools built by the state, at an expense of tens of millions of rands."

Motsepe was concerned about donors possibly pulling out.

Shelver said donors contributed voluntarily and all had committed to the pilot through a memorandum of agreement.

But the proposed benefits of collaboration schools were not the same for all the schools that took part in the pilot.

The newly built state-of-the-art Happy Valley Primary School in Blue Downs received fully equipped classes, which included interactive smart boards, a nutrition programme to feed pupils and employed a full-time social worker. With the support of its operating partner charity organisation Mellon Educate, teachers received regular training and support. Principal Calvyn Solomons, said the collaboration was a benefit to both the pupils and the community, and offered a level of teaching and resources he had not seen in more than 20 years.

The impact was not the same at Langa High School, where teachers initially resisted because of fears the school would be privatised.

A refurbished library building with empty bookshelves was the only evidence of infrastructure development, while matric pupils received additional tutoring thanks to funding from donors.

Education researcher at Stellenbosch University Nic Spaull said the dire state of public schools justified looking at other ways to provide quality education.

"The current system is so screwed that it justifies experimenting and trying different models and seeing if it works or not," he said. "It would be ideal if the public system could create schools that offer quality education to everyone, but if part of the solution is collaboration schools then I am not against it."

Jonathan Jansen called collaboration schools a "powerful model" that placed the decision in the hands of schools to select the best teachers and focused on scholastic performance.

The Western Cape education department plans to expand the pilot with R38-million secured from donors for 2017.

- Additional reporting Shenaaz Jamal


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