Schools are public bodies that are not only obliged to provide quality basic education but are also dutybound to address the issue of cultural diversity said Bhavna Ramji, an attorney with SECTION27.
Ramji was speaking to SABC News on Friday morning during a wide-ranging interview on education. Talking about the Hoërskool Overvaal situation, where there is a racial standoff, Ramji said although the judgment of the case has not been released to the public in written form, there were important and pertinent factors that school managers needed to understand.
She said beyond the issue of capacity, which was the main reason Hoerskool Overvaal advanced the current impasse, was the question of diversity. Ramji said schools were under an obligation in terms of the Constitution to ensure they accommodated cultural diversity.
“So let us say the Hoerskool Overvaal can’t accommodate these learners, they still have an obligation to ensure that they can provide a sufficient and culturally diverse programme for the learners who are from different backgrounds,” said Ramji.
Ramji also weighed on the issue of the influx of learners in provinces such as Gauteng and the Western Cape which places financial stress on the education departments to place learners at schools across the province. She said one of the main causes is the poor standard of education in the rural areas.
“There are huge problems going on in the rural schools from the way in which they are funded, not having efficient and reliable scholar transport to post provisioning which means not having enough teachers. And this has created a very real perception among parents that it is better to send their children elsewhere. So you have an equal distribution of learners across the country”, said Ramji
She said until we recognised and addressed the quality of education in rural areas as a starting point the problem would persist.
“I think that seriously we have to consider the quality of rural education in this country; that should be our starting point. It is not normal to have a situation where kids are being sent hundreds of kilometres away from their families to live with distant relatives and attend schools in other provinces, particularly where they learning in a language other than their own. Remember children have a right not just to basic education but also a right to learn in the language of their choice,” said Ramji.
She said moving children to areas that were perceived to provide quality education could be costly for parents. It is not only about physical dislocation but it also places children at a disadvantage when it comes to the issue of language.
“It is often there is a perception among parents that for a child to learn in English is equivalent to them actually learning English. But often not learning in mother tongue often places the child at a severe disadvantage which then takes to not admission which we look at the beginning of the year but something that we look at the end of the year which is quality of education and educational outcomes,” said Ramji.