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How to Liberate Education in the Western Cape?

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) is arguably one of the best-run education departments in the country. MEC David Maynier had a plan to deliver quality education for a growing school population and visibly delivered against this plan. I can personally attest that extra classrooms were added to three schools in my immediate area in the last year.

In November 2023 the national government dealt a massive R716.4 million blow to the WCED’s ability to build and maintain schools and pay teachers. Not only was the budget cut in the middle of a financial year, but the entire budgeting process collapsed, making it difficult to plan for the future. https://www.gov.za/news/speeches/mec-david-maynier-western-cape-education-adjustment-budget%C2%A0-08-dec-2023

This is a crisis for the WCED. This crisis could be compared to load shedding - an education shedding. Whereas load shedding came and went since 2007, education shedding will not go away for periods of time. In an environment where the budget process has collapsed, education can only get worse over time.

The saying goes that one should not let a crisis go to waste. Just as several rounds of severe load shedding broke the Eskom monopoly and led to decentralisation of the energy sector, education shedding can break the central control of the DBE and decentralise control over education.

The party to which MEC Maynier belongs strongly believes in liberalisation and decentralisation. The Western Cape government tries to pressurise national government to devolve policing powers to the province and the City of Cape Town tries to take over control over passenger rail.

The good news is that the SA Schools Act (SASA) already gives the provincial MEC the powers to create a regulatory environment in which independent education can flourish. According to S46(2) of the SASA, “The member of the Executive Council must, by notice in the Provincial Gazette, determine the grounds on which the registration of an independent school may be granted or withdrawn by the Head of Department.” No permission from the national minister is needed to liberalise education in the province.

The central control over independent education is the result of provincial regulations that require independent schools to be accredited by UMALUSI. Because UMALUSI does not accommodate curriculums other than the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) it limits freedom in education. Furthermore, the cost of accreditation with UMALUSI make the cost of compliance unaffordable for small schools.

It is within the power of provincial MEC’S to break this central control over independent education. In the Western Cape it only requires a change to provincial regulations to allow for a diversity of quality control bodies for independent schools to allow a diversity of independent educational institutions to flourish.

If civic society can establish trustworthy quality control bodies that can monitor the quality of education for a diversity of curriculums, and these bodies are acknowledged in provincial regulations or notices, then MEC David Maynier can significantly reduce the cost of regulatory compliance for independent education in the Western Cape and allow this sector to provide affordable quality education that public schools are unable to provide in this situation of education shedding.



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