By JOY HINYIKIWILE
A battle over the proposed rationalisation of school resources in Alicedale surfaced language rights tensions in the town last week.
There are just two public schools in Alicedale: a Quintile 3 Afrikaans-medium primary school and a Quantile 3 English-medium combined (primary and secondary) school offering IsiXhosa Home Language.
The Afrikaans-medium primary school, George Jacques, has 206 learners, seven teachers and a vacancy for one more teacher. The English-medium combined school, Hendrik Kanise, has 493 learners but only 160 in high school.
Last week, George Jacques Primary School parents requested media coverage for their planned march from the school to the Alicedale Town Hall, where Makana education circuit manager, Nombeko Xalabile, had requested a community meeting.
The march was to protest the proposed re-alignment of the two Alicedale schools to create government school ‘prototypes’ in the area.
The re-alignment was proposed by a Portfolio Committee, which visited the schools in January.
The proposal suggests that Hendrik Kanise Combined School be divided into two – a primary school and a secondary school. The Hendrik Kanise Primary section will be merged with George Jacques Primary School to increase learner enrolment and teacher allocation at the school and prevent learner dropouts and future closures due to low learner enrolment.
However, the snag is that George Jacques Primary School will have to change from being an Afrikaans-medium school to an English-medium school. In this way, the resulting primary school will become a feeder school for the local high school, which is also currently struggling with learner enrolment.
The school communities were given time to discuss the proposal and its viability and then share concerns.
A crowd of about 20 protestors gathered and demonstrated outside the school on Thursday morning, 10 November, expressing disapproval of the suggested school merger, re-alignment and removing Afrikaans as a medium of instruction. A march then proceeded to the town hall, with more protestors joining in. About 30 protestors arrived at the Alicedale Town Hall, demonstrated outside and then went inside for the meeting.
Remarks by the circuit manager
After community members had eventually settled in the town hall, Xalabile explained the Portfolio Committee’s proposal as follows:
- The Portfolio Committee that visited Alicedale earlier in the year comprised different political parties.
- The committee’s recommendations are not yet binding. The Alicedale community must first discuss the proposals.
- Community meetings are for consulting with and guiding community members towards the future. The proposal is not for immediate implementation.
- Alicedale is not a monolingual community. It is a diverse community of members who are equal in the government’s eyes.
- The community must try and look at the bigger picture and discuss solutions that will benefit everyone.
- The suggested re-alignment is to ensure a primary school and a high school in Alicedale.
- The department is considering the welfare of Alicedale schools, considering they are all struggling with learner enrolment and teacher shortage. The schools, however, are all doing well academically.
- Language is indeed a sensitive issue. The schools will still teach Afrikaans Home Language and IsiXhosa Home Language as subjects. However, the medium of instruction for all other subjects will be English.
- Insisting on teaching learners in Afrikaans or IsiXhosa will deny them the opportunity to fit in with the international community.
- All schools will benefit from the re-alignment. George Jacques Primary School will receive increased learner enrolment, which will lead to more teachers and possible senior posts, thereby opening up opportunities for promotions. George Jacques Primary School will, in turn, be a feeder school for Hendrik Kanise Secondary School.
- The shortage of teachers affects the quality of education learners get because the few present teachers are overworked.
Response by Hendrik Kanise’s SGB
Hendrik Kanise’s SGB chairperson explained that after various discussions with stakeholders, the Hendrik Kanise school community accepted the re-alignment. He, however, requested for more clarification on how the division would happen and argued that Alicedale needs to be treated as an exception regarding Post Provisioning Norms (PPN).
Response by George Jacques’s SGB
Represented by the school’s principal, because the chairperson could not attend, George Jacques’s SGB expressed the following remarks:
- The community had an Annual General Meeting where the proposal was highlighted, though not discussed.
- Various other meetings were held with stakeholders and they are unhappy about changing the language of learning and teaching for George Jacques pupils. They have no problem with integration between Coloured and Xhosa learners. George Jacques already has Xhosa pupils who are studying in Afrikaans.
- The minimum requirement for a primary school to exist is 135 learners, whereas the requirement for a high school is 200 learners. George Jacques has 206 learners, whereas Hendrik Kanise’s high school has less than 200 learners. Hence, George Jacques is not in danger of closure, but Hendrik Kanise is.
- The drop in learner enrolment for all schools is a concern; however, this is due to the lack of employment in Alicedale and parents needing to relocate to other areas for employment opportunities.
Response by a representative from the mayor’s office
- There are legislative concerns in the matter.
- Alicedale should not be separated according to language.
- Alicedale is the only community with a school from Grade R to Grade 12.
- The community must unite.
- Language must not be used as a barrier to unification or integration.
- The meeting is for advocacy. The department introduced the merging idea for the Alicedale community to discuss.
- Community members should not focus on problems without discussing the idea’s viability. The idea must be discussed first.
- The re-alignment is a good thing.
- If the primary school feeds the high school, learners will not need to leave Alicedale to find high schools or deal with scholar transport issues.
- The community is poor and can therefore not afford schools with various specialisations.
- The country is also facing severe challenges.
- Enrolment in both schools is a concern.
Responses by community members
Like the two school governing bodies, community members had opposing views.
Remarks in favour of the proposal
Remarks in favour of the proposal agreed with Xalabile’s comments and comments by the representative from the mayor’s office. Some explained that Xhosa pupils are already learning in a language that is not their mother tongue. Hence, they don’t see a problem with coloured pupils learning in English if there are limited funds and resources.
Remarks against the proposal
Remarks against the proposal ranged from complete disagreement with the re-alignment and merger to disagreement only with changing the language of instruction for George Jacques pupils. Other members expressed a desire for more clarity before considering the proposal. Additional remarks included:
- Paying for scholar transport or dealing with scholar transport issues is better than sacrificing mother tongue education.
- It is a tradition for Alicedale parents to send their children to other areas when they get to high school, so that they may learn new things.
- Pupils who study in Afrikaans don’t struggle when they get to university. They can continue with their studies and still go on to achieve great things.
- Fitting in with the international community is not a priority. The department must not concern itself with that.
- Mother-tongue education is not a privilege. It is a right.
- The merge will do nothing for the coloured community. Only the Xhosa community will benefit.
- In its deliberations, the department determined George Jacques will need R1 million refurbishment, whereas Hendrik Kanise will need R54 million refurbishment. This means George Jacques is in a better condition than Hendrik Kanise.
- Even if the merger happens, it is still not given that parents will send their children to local schools.
- Merged schools don’t always work well.
- Some were concerned that current pupils could not cope with the language change.
In concluding the meeting, Xalabile encouraged the Alicedale community to contemplate the matter and not demonise the re-alignment. Instead, community members must suggest ways to make the re-alignment work for everyone. Concerns regarding pupils who are already used to studying in Afrikaans can be considered. The language change can be enforced on pupils as they start Grade R.