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Despite the many policy reforms and investment in education for almost 30 years of democracy, we witness less commitment to its improvement.

You just have to look at the contextual realities that reflect the systemic inequalities in education that are perpetuated by nonperformance of learners, noncommitment of teachers, non-involvement of parents and non-accountability of the government from national, provincial and district levels.

A recent article in The Herald about two illegal schools in Gqeberha has brought the above into sharp focus.

A day later, readers also learnt about the savage vandalism of St Thomas High School in the northern areas of Gqeberha.

This is a school that has been a beacon of hope in the black community, as one of the very few in the Eastern Cape to offer music.

Musical instruments were destroyed, as if the perpetrators are showing contempt towards holistic child development.

As if this was not enough, in another breaking story, teaching and learning material and equipment to the value of R300,000 was destroyed in a deliberate petrol bombing of a school in Mangaung.

All this, along with the challenges of gangsterism, rape and pregnancies of young girls in schools, some of which are perpetuated by teachers, school governing body (SGB) members, family and community members.

I paint this grim picture just as the grade 12 examination results are to be announced because the expectation is that all learners must perform at the same level.

And yet, all learners do not enjoy the same tuition, material and infrastructural support and provision.

This is but part of the perennial problems faced by learners, teachers and school management in our basic education system.

COVID-19 exposed the glaring inequalities in this system, so it is not as if we do not know that they exist.

Despite this brutal realisation, however, we still have schools with no running water, no electricity and dangerous pit toilets.

All of this, and the increasing vandalism, leave despairing parents with little hope for their children’s education.

The non-prioritisation of township schools means parents do not have good options from which to choose.

The mushrooming of private schools and some non-accredited schools seem to be the only option for parents who live in neighbourhoods with non-performing schools.

For most, there is no option, as they cannot afford the fees of private schools.

Whole school development is a complex undertaking that requires everyone to be involved.

We have learnt from our past struggles that it cannot only be the government that takes the lead in the improvement of schools.

In fact, we have learnt that when the government fails, the community is best placed to take care and lead the way.

This is not in any way absolving the government from their responsibility, but in fact making sure that the collective in the community holds the government accountable.

This cannot happen, however, if a community does not show interest by taking care, pride and responsibility in the running of the school.

This includes monitoring the upkeep of school grounds and amenities, ensuring learners do not loiter during school hours and that safety and security concerns are addressed.

It also requires the community not to buy stolen goods from vandalised schools and to hold its SGB accountable.

In this way, the community and parents take ownership.

Seeing schools as part of the community has proven effective in getting teachers and learners to commit to the learning and teaching process. We therefore need a paradigm shift to change the narrative, lest we become numbed by these incidents and accept them as a norm.

The Centre for the Community School in the Faculty of Education at Nelson Mandela University has always encouraged schools to look at a community school model that views schools as being part of the community.

This type of school becomes a space in the community that promotes and fosters hope on the personal, relational and collective levels.

School leadership that is strategic and practical in cocreating a multipronged contextually relevant and responsive solution, forms the basis of this model.

This model encourages a response to intentionally pay attention to the intra-, trans and exo-issues of a school.

The intra issues are internal to the school and classroom, including content knowledge, time spent on tasks, pedagogy, and discipline.

It includes the ability to address trans- issues within the school that are beyond the classroom, but affect on the teaching and learning.

These issues include equipment and infrastructure, budgeting, strategy, school ethos and maintenance of assets.

Additionally, being aware that the school is the microcosm of the community and that the socioeconomic conditions that plague the community), also has an effect on the daily running of the school and performance of learners.

If we are serious about our aim of improving conditions in our country, we have an obligation to get involved.

We cannot be indifferent while the future of the generations to come becomes bleaker by the day.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 18 January 2023 written by Dr Muki Moeng, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Education at Nelson Mandela University

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