Why It's Unfair To Compare Public And Private Schools In SA


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Is the growth of the private education sector due to the failures of the public sector? The Department of Basic Education believes this is not the case. 


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The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has rubbished suggestions that the public education sector is failing. This comes after an article published on Bloomberg suggested that the growth of private-sector education is due to the loss of trust parents have in the public education system. 

DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga says the growth in enrollments at public schools can be attributed to the growth in the population. They say learner enrollment at public schools has grown and has never dropped. 

The growth that is taking place in private schools is happening because of the general growth in the population in the country because the enrollment numbers in public education have never gone down, in fact, they are going up. We are standing at 14.3 million children in the system. 

The article further lists a lack of resources, crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms and corruption as factors that are negatively affecting educational outcomes. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016 report indicated that 78% of Grade 4 learners could not read for understanding in any language.

Mhlanga says success in the education sector is measured by the outcomes of learning. The department evaluates whether learners have gained the necessary skills needed to navigate life and make informed directions along with other important learning outcomes. 

We're not teaching to pass an exam, we teaching to equip them with life skills that they will require for them to be able to navigate different challenges that they might need in life but also to equip them with the skills that they need for them to make informed decisions that will enhance their lives

Mhlanga emphasised the need to consider the vast difference in the number of learners enrolled in each sector. With approximately 14.3 million students in the public education system compared to around 750,000 in private education, direct comparisons are deemed as inaccurate. 

They say the sheer scale of the public education system presented unique challenges, including issues of overcrowding and resource allocation. These challenges may not be present in private schools. 

We shouldn't even be comparing because the numbers will always be higher when you look at those that come from public education versus private schools 

Mhlanga acknowledges that several challenges in the basic education sector do not affect private schools. These challenges include resource constraints and the acceptance of all students, regardless of performance, migration and overcrowded classrooms.

They point to provinces like Gauteng and the Western Cape where thousands of parents migrate to and require placement for their children. They add that the DBE has a constitutional duty to ensure that these learners have access to education. 

Thousands and thousands of people every year come there without any prior application or notice for enrollment in those particular areas but we have to accept them, we cannot turn them away so we have a constitutional duty to make sure that each and every child has access to education and private schools have a choice as to whether you can afford or not. 

Mhlanga called for collaboration between communities, parents, and government departments to address issues like infrastructure, school maintenance, and the quality of education. They say school governing bodies (SBGs) ensure the maintenance and safety of existing resources and infrastructure

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