Don't fix what ain't broke

Trade union federation Cosatu wants to “eliminate the three-tiered education system, which features private institutions, former Model-C schools and ordinary public schools, and to redistribute resources towards ordinary public schools in working-class and poor communities”.

We fail to understand how tampering with a school like ours, which serves working-class and poor communities as well as middle-class communities, will help improve dysfunctional “ordinary” schools. We are passionate about the excellent education that we offer and feel compelled to explain what it is that we offer.

Wynberg Girls’ High School is a former whites-only school with an uninterrupted history of outstanding academic achievement—such as a 100% pass rate for 18 years. Our institution produces citizens who are both economically and socially beneficial to a democratic society.

The role of teachers
Running such a high-functioning institution is dependent on a large professional staff complement who are required to work so hard that they achieve the equivalent of three days’ work in one day.

The role of teachers in our school is pivotal: time on task is clearly dependent on having teachers teaching in the classrooms—teachers who know their stuff, who believe their learners can learn, and who care for learners’ personal and academic growth.
The high costs of running Wynberg Girls’ High are borne partly by the state but mostly by the parents, scholarship organisations and various fundraising activities.

We offer a wide subject choice at the further education and training (FET) level (grades 10, 11 and 12)—maths, physical science, life science, consumer studies, computer applications technology, art, music and dance. This enables us to attract a wide range of learners, which in turn enhances the unique nature and diversity of the school.

Social inclusion
On an ordinary weekday, a quarter of South Africans do not talk to a person of another colour and 46% never mingle with other race groups, according to a political analyst at the Institute of Justice and Reconciliation, Jan Hofmeyr.

Black and white learners at Wynberg Girls’ High come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, which is a great strength of the school. Each learner learns to get along with those who are “not like me”. They work and play in an environment that reflects the diversity of the peninsula’s population.

This is one of the few areas in their lives where they learn diversity socialisation, and it gives them an added advantage when they go to work in South Africa because they have grown up to appreciate and respect diversity. Also, graduates from all-girls’ schools have the edge in their chosen careers and frequently attain leadership positions in society.

We are deliberately and consciously committed to a non-elitist ethos and social inclusion. We are committed to redress and to giving access to learners whose parents were disadvantaged by apartheid.

The impact of good schooling on children from disadvantaged backgrounds is far greater than its impact on middle-class children. We have many stories to celebrate. At Wynberg Girls’ High, examples abound of teenagers who need emotional support and mentoring so that they can achieve. Some girls live in dysfunctional homes. Dozens of girls are not functioning appropriately because of the constraints of poverty.

We have a track record of 15 years in which we can identify the amazing achievements of vulnerable girls who, without the supportive ethos that prevails at our school, would not have achieved what they have.

The Freedom Charter’s wish list includes the phrase: “The doors of learning and culture shall be opened.” We are making redress possible for South African girls whose parents were denied the benefits of a decent education during apartheid.

Shirley Harding is the principal of Wynberg Girls’ High School and Dave Green is the chairperson of its school governing body

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