Equal Education sways Western Cape Minister of Education to support, not close, two poor performing schools

tol chalkboard logoWhen a school is closed, it is not just the end of an institution but of a history, heritage and a community. Schools are more than places of learning. They offer a range of support structures, especially to poor learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.  Thus when Equal Education was approached in June to intervene in the Western Cape Education Department’s plan to possibly close 27 schools in the province, EE saw that it was essential to become involved.

Over the last five months EE, working closely with the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), kept a close watch over the school closure process to ensure that the Department remains true to its constitutional obligations to respect, protect and fulfil affected learners’ rights to a basic education. EE and the EELC wrote numerous letters to the Department and launched an access to information application and a subsequent internal appeal to obtain information relating to the proposed closures. We also reviewed thousands of pages of documents detailing the specific circumstances of each affected school and the Department’s policies and procedures governing school closures. EE contacted the principals of all 27 schools as well as principals of proposed placement schools, to better understand the circumstances and needs of the affected communities.

EE and the EELC attended public hearings and also met with the Head of Department, during which time we tabulated our concerns, including the problematic nature of a policy to close down urban schools such as Zonnebloem and Peakview High for underperformance.  Schools such as Zonnebloem and Peak View offer opportunities for township learners who would otherwise find it hard to access schools outside of the townships in which they reside.  Unlike many urban schools, these schools have open door admissions policies that permit learners to attend regardless of their primary school backgrounds or results.  EE and EELC met with staff and learners at Zonnebloem and Peak View to better understand the complexities of their situations.  EE’s stance on school closures was expressed in an opinion piece, written by an EE staff member, which appeared in a widely circulated newspaper in September.

During the campaign EE made documentaries about the plight of Zonnebloem and Peak View.  EE also picketed outside the Department’s offices and handed over a memorandum to the Head of the Department containing a list of demands, including that Zonnebloem and Peakview not be closed because the department is constitutionally and statutorily required to identify and address the causes of underperformance.  The educational deficits of learners at underperforming schools will not go away if underperforming schools are simply closed instead of supported.

EE and the EELC are pleased that through our collective efforts we were able to convince the Department to keep Zonnebloem and Peak View open.  We will work together with these schools and the Department to ensure that targeted support is provided to improve learning conditions and educational outcomes at these schools.


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