Private or public school makes no difference if parents aren’t involved

30 May 2018 - 06:00 By Ernest Mabuza
Classroom. File photo.
School desks Classroom. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

The real division in South African education is not between public and independent schools‚ but between good schools and bad ones - and how actively involved the children’s parents are.

These are the key points in an Institute of Race Relations (IRR) report titled “Achievement and Enterprise in School Education”‚ written by policy fellow John Kane-Berman.

What typically defines the good schools – including “no-fee” township schools in communities classified as being too poor to be levied school fees – is strong parental involvement that reinforces teaching-focused leadership. Kane-Berman said from the point of view of the consumers of school education‚ made up of pupils and their parents‚ it was immaterial whether a school was run by the state or by a private organisation. “What counts is the quality of education provided‚ whether the focus is exclusively on academic results or also on sport and other activities‚” he said.

The report said the performance of pupils in public schools was poor by world standards‚ even though South Africa spent a relatively high proportion of GDP and of taxation on education.

However‚ Kane-Berman said the overall matric pass rate of public schools of 73% was misleading as it concealed an above average performance of many public schools.

For the report‚ the IRR visited 10 high schools‚ six public and four independent. The Gauteng education department supplied the names of eight of its best schools. Three of these were no-fee township schools with pass rates of between 97% and 100%. The IRR visited two of the schools as the third principal was busy.

The institute also visited four of the five suburban public schools supplied by the department and one no-fee schools identified by City Press as one of the best top schools in nine provinces. The Independent Schools Association of South Africa supplied the names of two schools‚ both of them situated in suburbs rather than townships.

The third independent school‚ located in a township‚ was chosen when the IRR researcher saw a sign at the entrance proclaiming “100% pass” in 2016. The IRR said that with the exception of one suburban school whose overall matric pass rate was 93% and one township school whose rate was 95%‚ all eight of the secondary schools in the study achieved rates of between 98% and 100%.

However‚ bachelor passes told a different story. “In township schools the proportion of NSC candidates who achieved such passes ranged between 47% and 54%. The proportions for suburban schools ranged between 65% and 78%.” Berman said the additional teachers employed in fee-paying suburban schools were the most obvious explanation for the better performance of those schools on this stricter criterion. “Better facilities such as laboratories and libraries in such schools may further help to explain their superior performance‚’ Berman said.