By Leon Fourie
For the sustainable survival of the Afrikaans language and culture community, excellent Afrikaans schools are non-negotiable. In several towns across South Africa, it is clear that where good schools are lacking, the Afrikaans community is waning.
The Afrikaans language and culture community in South Africa, as a minority community, cannot rely on the state for a sustainable survival. This community must take ownership and responsibility for themselves. This requires the ability to think anew about sustainable solutions, which are already being realized in various fields, for example safety, electricity, business community, social services, education and training.
Today, it is common practice to make use of private security, medical services, postal services, transportation, electricity, etc., which were historically provided by the state. Even certain parts of the processes, which form part of state regulation, for example to apply for a new passport, ID document or driver’s license, have already been partially privatized.
One of the few facets of South African society that is still largely regulated by the state are schools and specifically Afrikaans schools. One of the reasons for this is the excellent Afrikaans public schools, with strong governing bodies, which ensure quality education from the school community’s own pocket and offer opposition to state centralization. However, the room for maneuver within the law is becoming smaller for these schools. This is clear from the Bela Amendment Act’s addition, which gives education districts the right to prescribe matters concerning the school’s admission and language policy, and appoints the MEC for education in the province to determine the feeder area of a school.
These legal amendments require that the schools must meet the ‘education district’s’ needs, and that each Afrikaans school can be expected to also reflect the language preferences of the education district. This creates substantial risks for the survival of Afrikaans in public schools. The issue surrounding privatization of public schools is also not addressed in the South African Schools Act (SASW of 1996), but the conversion from an independent school to a public school is.
The Afrikaans language and culture community will have to develop a unique integrated strategic plan for their community in each town or region, in which the question of sustainable, high-quality Afrikaans education must be central. If a public Afrikaans school in a community is still strong, that is good, but the survival of that community is dependent on that school. Every community must have a continuity plan, the public school would anglicize over time.
There are two ways in which Afrikaans will continue to exist in schools. The first is, if public schools gain the power to decide for themselves about their language policy. In this case, the school retains some state subsidy which means that a high quality offer in Afrikaans can be offered to the community relatively affordably. The other way is to establish a network of independent Afrikaans schools that use technology, within an educationally responsible framework, to continue to offer a high quality offer in Afrikaans, in a cost-effective way.
In order to have the power to decide for themselves about their actions, Afrikaans schools must be able to function independently, especially within a state that tries to centralize powers in every area of society. The central placement system is another telling example of this. White papers that preceded the SASW of 1996 stipulate that school governing bodies must have power over the control and management of the school. The basic starting point was that parents have the primary responsibility for the education of their children, and that the state must play a facilitating role in terms of the provision of infrastructure, educators (to an extent) and operational costs (to an extent). The proposed amendments to the Schools Act still keep parents responsible for financing quality education, but centralize the right to make decisions in the hands of the state. To promote independence, schools and school governing bodies must use the room for maneuver within the current SASW of 1996, continue to exercise their powers, and take up the constitutional rights around language and culture.
In order to further achieve greater independence, it is desirable that schools manage their additional funds independently, by means of a community trust or non-profit company (NPO), with the school as beneficiary. Schools have a great value proposition that they can bring to the business community in terms of their credible reputation, outstanding performance, the number of people they are in direct contact with, as well as the influence they exert in their communities. The historical ownership of school land must even be looked at.
The operational costs of high-quality independent schools, which follow the same teaching model as most public schools, are very expensive. If public schools could privatize, with their existing models, the school fund of those schools would increase by between 30% and 50%.
African public schools must be protected and kept strong, but at the same time a high-quality, cost-effective independent school system must also be built. Operational effectiveness and the use of technology will increasingly enable the Afrikaans language and culture community to be able to offer state services, without state income, to scale solutions, and to be able to offer a high-quality offer more cost-effectively. Technology already enables teachers to free up their time, to work more deeply (on a higher cognitive level) with their children, or to be able to serve more children with a reduced workload, which over a greater period of time leads to cost-effectiveness for means schools.
Afrikaans schools must continue to offer a strong value proposition for the community, through a quality offering, create a positive experience and be linked to a greater cause. The future of Afrikaans schools lies in it more community, more independence and less state. These realities will have to be created from the ground up by schools themselves, in order to help ensure a future for the Afrikaans language and culture community.
Institutions such as the Solidarity School Support Center strive to fight for the survival of Afrikaans education in the public sector, but also enable communities to establish schools where necessary, with the necessary training, resources, curriculum and systems. In such a case, the community must organize themselves, and create the necessary energy to establish, control and manage the school.
To both sides, the solutions for the sustainable survival of public and independent Afrikaans schools are not simple, but definitely achievable.
- Leon Fourie is CEO of the Solidarity School Support Centre.