By ROD AMNER, Grocott’s Mail co-editor
Schools are back in session, and 2023 is warming up.
Well, in truth, it’s getting a tad overheated. Learners in schools like George Jacques (Alicedale) and Grahamstown Primary swelter in prefabricated classrooms. DD Siwisa learners cannot open their windows – they were welded shut after vandals invaded their classrooms over the holidays.
Despite the discomfort and threat of vandalism, local schools can feel proud they are part of the best-performing educational district in the Eastern Cape.
The city’s three private schools have produced some ostentatiously impressive results. The public sector’s biggest-ever cohort of matrics produced the highest-ever overall pass rate – 85%. There were 305 Bachelor passes, the second-highest total ever. Added to that are the 197 Bachelor passes at the GADRA Matric School – 83% of the 237 learners enrolled.
In this edition, GADRA Education manager Dr Ashley Westaway writes that this is an opportune time for all stakeholder bodies and leaders to hone in on education as THE key local sector. “Together, let’s capitalise on the unique opportunity that we have to put Makhanda at the centre of the educational map of South Africa,” he wrote.
The Circle of Unity education cluster
Many of those stakeholders were represented at the first meeting of the Makhanda Circle of Unity (CoU) Education Cluster meeting on Wednesday. Very ably led by Victoria Girls High School principal Warren Schmidt and CoU manager Sisesakhe Ntlabezo, the cluster is packed with a talented array of education leaders and activists: Rhodes VC Prof Sizwe Mabizela, RUCE director Di Hornby, a wide range of principals, NGO leaders, human rights lawyers, and education academics.
This cluster is part of a broad-based civic alliance dubbed ‘the schools partnership’. Long-term partnerships between Rhodes, innovative educational non-profits (like Gadra Education and the Lebone Centre), dynamic civic associations (like the Intsomi family literacy project and Makhanda’s network of early childhood development centres), rapidly improving no-fee paying schools led by outstanding principals and support from the Department of Basic Education, have culminated in unprecedented success.
‘The schools partnership’ has targeted its high school programmes on four local high schools – Nombulelo, Ntsika, Mary Waters and Khutliso Daniels – which all achieved high pass rates and Bachelor pass levels. Learners at these schools benefit from a Rhodes-run mentoring programme called The Nine-Tenths, where highly-trained Rhodes student volunteers collaborate with learners on personal planning, studying skills, written work and tertiary applications.
Hendrik Kanise’s 100% pass rate
But remarkably, educational success is erupting in other parts of our district untouched by the schools partnership.
On Tuesday, Grocott’s Mail witnessed the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature’s Portfolio Committee on Education meeting with two Alicedale schools – the Hendrik Kanise Combined School and the Afrikaans-medium George Jacques Primary.
All 25 of Hendrik Kanise’s matrics passed their matric exams in 2022 – including 13 Bachelor passes – an against-the-odds outcome in a town with an estimated unemployment rate of 85% and precariously weak municipal services.
The Portfolio Committee meeting in Alicedale was one of many recently conducted in the Makana district. The Committee has listened carefully to the many challenges facing schools and grilling education officials for responses.
George Jacques Primary has 205 learners and only qualifies for six teaching posts – but since they are spread across eight grades, they have no one to teach Grade 2. School budgets are pitifully small, and there is no admin clerk, school hall or staff room. Meanwhile, Hendrik Kanise is concerned that long-promised upgrade tenders are delayed.
But, unlike in 2022, most textbooks and stationery arrived in the district on time for this year’s school opening. Aided by the Portfolio Committee roadshows, some principals are ‘cautiously optimistic’ that the education department is becoming more responsive to schools’ challenges than it has been in the past.
Tuesday’s meeting was packed to the rafters with parents and educators fighting for their children’s education rights. Sadly, some of those parents were scolded by the chair of the Portfolio Committee for ‘politicising’ their insistence that their children had the right to learn in their home language. The parents were concerned about a switch to English as a medium of instruction if a proposed merger of their Afrikaans-medium primary school with the Hendrik Kanise Combined School goes ahead.
Alicedale will soon have to make tough decisions about the merger, and Grocott’s will report on these debates more fully in the coming weeks.
The crisis in Riebeek East
Meanwhile, in another small Makana town, Riebeek East, parents and learners have shut down the local school over the dire shortage of educators. The small school of 93 learners has just three educators who teach all nine grades – a reminder of our education system’s ongoing and heartbreaking deficits.
But, overall, our assets are trumping those deficits. Public education in this district is resurgent. A broad-based coalition is driving unprecedented levels of innovation and success.
Education is our city’s economic powerhouse and our raison d’etre. In Ashley Westaway’s words, “The stars are aligned – let’s capitalise!”