Schools change, but not in staff rooms

25 June 2017 - 00:05 By PREGA GOVENDER

 

Parents who want to give their children a top education will have to compromise on diversity, with the staff rooms of South Africa's most expensive private and state schools still overwhelmingly white.

A survey by the Sunday Times of some of the most expensive private and state schools found a dire situation.

Some 91% of the academic staff at Hilton College — the country's most expensive private school — are white, while at the exclusive Michaelhouse the figure is 90%.

It's no better at state schools. At Northcliff High School 96% of the academic staff are white, while the figure at Pretoria Boys' High is 90%.

The figures for Northcliff and Pretoria Boys are according to teaching staff lists and photos on the schools' websites. The schools refused to reveal their numbers.

It's very hard for a young black boy to expect an older white male to understand their problems and resolve them
Michaelhouse head boy Bongi Fleischer

This week Michaelhouse head boy Bongi Fleischer, 18, spoke out about the lack of transformation, saying boys of colour did not feel that they were represented by members of senior management.

"It's very hard for a young black boy to expect an older white male to understand their problems and resolve them," he told the Sunday Times.

The Department of Basic Education says it is strengthening legislation on teacher recruitment to ensure racial integration in public schools. Draft legislation is before the cabinet that will give provincial education departments powers to intervene in cases where school governing bodies failed to appoint teachers of colour. The proposal will soon be released for public comment.

A series of transformation workshops at Pridwin Preparatory in Johannesburg last year found some parents believed teachers gave more "personalised" attention to white pupils and treated black children "harsher".

Some parents also said more focus was placed on traditional "white" sports, which black pupils had not been exposed to previously. At least 63% of pupils and 75% of teachers at Pridwin are white.

Pridwin Preparatory principal Selwyn Marx said the comments were made by a small number of parents who attended the workshops and that strategies had been implemented to sensitise teachers.

Michael Berger, the chairman of the governing body at Jeppe High School for Boys, declined to give a racial breakdown of teachers. Statistics were not a true reflection of transformation and the school's priority was "hiring the best teachers", he said.

"We will never compromise on this for the sake of making up certain demographic numbers just to tick a box of political correctness."

University of Johannesburg vice-chancellor Professor Ihron Rensburg said if pupils did not have role models that reflected their culture and traditions, there was a particular relationship that evolved which, in the worst case, was a subservient one.

"It means my culture doesn't matter; it means I must put it aside when I walk into this institution. I have to change my hairstyle, I have to change my intonation. I can't wear my dreads. It's that kind of thing."

According to parents

Teachers give more individualised and personalised attention to certain pupils — mostly white ones

Black academics at UJ have increased from 165, when Rensburg was appointed in 2005, to 485.

Michaelhouse headmaster Greg Theron said the school board had acknowledged there was more the school could do to diversify staff and had "mandated management to increase these numbers".

Hilton College principal George Harris said a concerted process had been under way for several years "to ensure greater representation".

Bishops — with a staff complement of six black and 54 white teachers — said in a statement that the school's black staff numbers were low partly because staff seldom left, "so we have to wait for retirements to improve our staff diversity".

Westerford High principal Rob le Roux said finding quality black teachers was almost impossible. "Any quality black graduate is snapped up by commerce and industry. This is a simple reality."

Lebogang Montjane, executive director of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa, which has 719 member schools in South Africa, said demographics needed to change urgently.

"It is essential that pupils see those who look like them at all levels in the school, including management and senior staff. This should not be a quota process but rather an organic one born of a tenacious will to look for and find talent among black people."

Basic Education Director-General Mathanzima Mweli said school governing bodies had not moved "as fast as the country would have expected" in reflecting a staff profile in line with that of pupils.

He said the draft legislation aims to give provincial education departments power to intervene in cases where school governing bodies failed to appoint black teachers.

"I feel very bad that we have not made good progress, especially in the former Model C schools in terms of racial integration."

How parents see the problem

Concerns raised by Pridwin Preparatory parents in school diversity workshops included:

Teachers give more individualised and personalised attention to certain pupils — mostly white ones;

Teaching has not transformed and it is perceived that there is no understanding of diversity and transformation;

The school operates in a bubble and does not take cognisance of the bigger world and what needs to be achieved;

There is more focus on traditionally "white" sports, which black pupils have not been exposed to growing up; and

Transformation is seen as a numbers game and no attention is given to making the culture conducive to change.

Suggestions

The current statistics of both teacher and pupil transformation need to be declared, with a commitment for the next five years;

Teachers must attend a human resources intervention that focuses on transformation and diversity;

The school must celebrate diversity with regard to culture and religion; and

Interview panels for teacher and pupil selection must be conducted by a diverse panel.

Conclusion

A transformation plan needs to be implemented with clear objectives, timelines and measurements.

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