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This week, the third largest public elections kick off at every school across the country. Over five million parents will have the opportunity, between 1 – 23 March, to vote for the School Governing Body (SGB) at their child’s school.
Many South Africans may ask: What’s the big deal? Why are the SGB elections important?
The answer is this: Our country’s future depends on our ability to improve the quality of our children’s education. This requires an effective partnership between the education department, principals and teachers, and (crucially) parents and pupils. Each must understand their respective role, and fulfil it. Otherwise quality education for all will remain a pipedream, no matter how much money we pump into education.
School Governing Bodies are the nexus of effective partnerships in our schools. In particular the SGB empowers parents to become powerful players in the education of their children. When a school community elects committed, skilled parents to fulfil this role it makes an enormous difference to a school’s ethos and quality – and vice versa. Self-seeking parents who abuse the power of governing bodies for their own ends can inflict severe damage on a school.
As with elections everywhere, voters get the governance they deserve. But in the case of SGBs, there is an additional risk. Parents who fail to understand the issues at stake in these elections undermine their children’s education. Parents too apathetic to participate cannot complain later.
Prior to 1994, teachers, learners and parents were largely excluded from school governance. This changed with the South African Schools Act of 1996, which requires every public school to have a SGB democratically elected by the school community and mandated to set key polices and rules, as long these are compatible with the Constitution and the law.
Some of the powers and functions entrusted to SGBs include:
• Deciding the admission policy of the school;
• Deciding the language policy of a school;
• Establishing a policy on religion at the school;
• Adopting a school code of conduct and constitution;
• Administering and controlling the school’s property and budget; and
• Determining the school’s annual fees in consultation with parents.
Crucially, SGBs also interview and nominate principals and educators for appointment by the relevant provincial education department.
Essentially, it is the skills and dedication of principals and teachers that make or break a school. The fact that SGBs short-list applications and make recommendations to their respective education department means that they play a direct role in ensuring that capable and enthusiastic educators are appointed to teach learners at their schools.
Furthermore, SGBs are empowered to fund additional posts that are appointed directly by the SGB. There are almost 50,000 SGB teaching posts in schools in South Africa.
It should therefore be of profound concern to every South African that an estimated 80% of SGBs across the country are considered to be “dysfunctional”. This is the assessment of the two major SGB associations – the National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) and the Federation of Governing Bodies of South Africans Schools (Fedsas). This figure is far higher than that provided by Deputy Minister of Basic Education Enver Surty, who recently estimated that around 30% of SGBs are not functioning in the way they should be.
Together the NASGB and Fedsas represent nearly 20 000 of the country’s 26 000 state schools. The associations believe that the main reasons for the high number of dysfunctional SGBs are that members lack the insight, skills and will to carry out their responsibilities.They argue that poor training (which provincial education departments are obliged to provide in terms of the South African Schools Act) is partly to blame for the incapacity of many SGB members.
It is critical that we turn this situation around and that the upcoming elections result in competent and committed people being elected to SGBs, with the capacity to select quality teachers and to manage their school’s finances efficiently and effectively. Because these skills are sometimes lacking in the parent body of the school, the law makes provision for the co-option of people from outside the parent body to undertake specific tasks. Even though so many governing bodies are performing below par, we must avoid the temptation to abandon the principle of parent empowerment in education, but rather undertake the enormous task of building the right capacity and sense of ownership amongst parents in our schools to fulfil their crucial task.
All provincial education departments must therefore ensure that first, the upcoming SGB elections are free, fair and run smoothly at every school. Second, that once elected, SGB members are properly training to ensure they can carry out the enormous responsibilities required of them. We have to avoid some of the appalling situations I came across during my brief stint as MEC for Education, where I discovered instances of SGBs “selling” nominations for teaching posts to the highest bidder, rather than appointing the best candidate.
The Western Cape Government takes its responsibilities in ensuring the success of SGBs extremely seriously.
When it comes to the election process, the Western Cape Education Department has established a Provincial Electoral Team consisting of government officials, representatives from SGB associations and other relevant stakeholders. The task team has been working closely with electoral teams in all our education districts to ensure that every school is ready for the elections.
An electoral officer, usually a principal from a neighbouring school, has been assigned to every school and is tasked with managing the voting process. A total of 1555 electoral officers have been trained by the Western Cape Education Department by 15 February and since the start of this month circuit teams have visited schools across the province to inspect their voter’s rolls and their voting stations to ensure they are ready to host a successful election.
Once the election process has been completed and a new SGB has appointed for a three year term, the Western Cape Education Department will provide extensive training between April and June 2012 to ensure that every SGB member has the knowledge and skills needed to govern their school effectively.
Tomorrow, Western Cape Minister of Education Donald Grant and I will be visiting Gugulethu to promote and encourage members of the community to become involved in next week’s SGB elections.
However, the entire process becomes meaningless if voting parents ignore the “fit for purpose” criterion in electing governing bodies. All too often, these elections become arenas for political faction fights in school communities.
Parents must always remember: when it comes to SGBs, it is their children who suffer the effects of an inefficient, lazy, corrupt or self-serving governing body.
They can reflect this insight in their crucial vote for the members of their SGB during the month of March. It is every bit as significant as their vote in a national election.