Parents owe it to their children to take part in how schools are run

This week I had a conversation with my friends about the extent of our involvement in our children’s education. The conversation emanated from a letter I received from my son’s school alerting me about this and that, and that schools reopen on 27 January.

We spoke about what this would mean for working parents to have children at home for an entire month while they will probably return to work in the first week or second week of January. 

Who is going to look after the children if parents do not have a nanny or anyone else to assist them with children? 

Those parents without help have to see if they can take extra leave or find other ways of making sure that someone can take care of the children while they are at work. 

In the recent BC (before Covid-19) years schools closed earlier in December and were open by the second or third week in January. But, to make up for the months that have been lost when schools were closed under the lockdown regulations to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the 2020 school calendar has had to be amended. 

Of course the department of basic education does not dream up the school calendar and this was the basis of the conversation with my friends. Every year, the department releases proposed dates for the school calendar and asks people to comment. After the consultation process and taking into account all other considerations the final school calendar is gazetted by the basic education minister. 

But how many parents actually take the time to look at the proposed dates and make submissions to the department? Do parents even know that they have a say in the school calendar or do they wait to get the letters at the end of the year telling them when schools close and open? Yet they are shocked and angry if they don’t agree with the schools closing early or opening late? 

The thing is, legislation allows us parents to have more say in the education of our children. Our role extends well beyond buying uniforms, paying school fees and helping our kids with their schoolwork. We have the power to influence things such as the school calendar to ensure that it does align with our lived realities — especially when it comes to long breaks from school. 

Of course, there is no guarantee that whatever parents suggest will ultimately be the decision that will prevail, but it is important to be involved in these processes. 

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga recently gazetted the date for the school governing body elections next year — they will take place from 1 to 31 March. These elections are important and we parents should go out in numbers to elect the people we want to govern the schools that our children attend or, better yet, put up our hands to be part of the school governing body. 

School finances end up being mismanaged by rogue principals because there are people in the school governing body who do not question things — or they are the lapdogs of the principal and benefit from the misuse of school funds. 

It is therefore important to elect people who will interrogate bad decisions — not only those related to school funds but also to how the school is managed. 

We cannot have parents who are not interested in the running of the school their children attend, who want to pass that responsibility on to others. The laws of this country permit parents to be active participants in the education system and we owe it to our children to take part in these processes. 

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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