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South Africa's Human Rights Commission Criticizes School System

  • Rowan Reid

South Africa's Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says many of the country's school children are unable to receive a quality education in a safe environment. The report says many schools are dysfunctional and students are often victims of crime and abuse.

The SAHRC's investigation found the education system in South Africa has been unable to overcome many of the legacies of Apartheid, with children in the townships and rural areas hugely disadvantaged by poor quality schools. They said the right to basic education is still far from a reality.

Last year, the Commission held hearings across the country to determine whether schools were meeting the educational needs of their pupils in a safe environment. What it found was two starkly contrasting scenarios; the former Model C or white schools in the suburbs had adequate resources and performed effectively, but those in the townships and rural areas were generally dysfunctional, poorly managed, under-resourced and plagued by vandalism and theft.

Commissioner Tom Manthata says many schools are spiraling out of control.

"You find that our SGBs, that it school governing bodies, themselves cannot match, the school principal cannot match the teachers, let alone that, in some cases they cannot match the very children that they are supposed to help or assist, so its that kind of free for all scenario," he said.

The commission says nearly one third of teachers are inadequately qualified and many do not understand the curriculum. Manthata says many lack passion and are shirking their responsibilities.

"The teachers are playing truant, teachers will play sick, and teachers so know how many days they are entitled to for leave that the principal or the school governing body are unable to deal with them," Manthata said. "But fortunately the teachers some of them will know that they have to be at work. The question is what do they do, do they have the capacity? [...], so let the government assist the teachers. The government has not engaged them in development projects at all."

But the Commission says it is not just the fault of teachers and the government, parents must also take responsibility for the failings of their schools.

"These schools where there is no order where there is no accountability, these are the schools where parents do not match up the demands of their children," said Manhata. "Parents do not visit schools. Sometimes even where the schools have occasions where they want the support of the community they are just not there at all."

To address the problem, Manthata says all stakeholders must take an active interest in what is happening at schools.

"Let the ward councilor, let the church people, let the professional in and around the school show interest in the schools not the school governing body only," he said. "Until we do that we are unable to understand what we need or expect of children."

South African Education Department is yet to comment on the Commission's findings.

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