By Danie Mouton
Internal problems in the Education Department were not the only factor behind the crisis in education in South Africa, said Uitenhage District Office of Education head, Mrs N Bashman. Speaking at a recent Port Elizabeth prayer meeting attended by church leaders and education department representatives, she said a breakdown in the fabric of community life was also a factor in the educational crisis. She proposed the following ways in which churches could address the community breakdown problem and provide practical support to schools:
1. Adopt a school
Churches could adopt schools: possibly schools in their vicinity. The process should start with churches taking an interest in particular schools and taking steps to initiate friendhips. The education department, school governing bodies, and principals would then support this process.
2. Support child-headed homes
There were many homes in many communities where no adults are present. The households were managed by children. In some cases parents have died; in others they were absent due to financial or other circumstances. Congregations could assist with auditing these homes: establishing the number of such households and identifying opportunities for the community to support the children.
3. Combat child pregnancies
Communities needed to stand together in a campaign to prevent child pregnancies. Churches could play a role by empowering parents to provide guidance to their children in the area of their sexuality.
Churches could encourage parents to bring old uniforms, books, shoes, etc. that they no longer needed to church for donating to identified schools.
5. Get children back into the school system
Sometimes Grade 12 learners who failed decided not to return to school. In many communities it was also common to find children of schoolgoing age who were not at school. These children were not being equipped for a productive future. Churches could partner with the Education Department to identify such children and motivate them to get back into the school system.
6. Provide information
Churches could designate an education month during which the Education Department could be invited to share information. Information shared could include curriculum changes, details about winter school programmes, spring school programmes and sporting programmes, and exam timetables. Parent and learner support for these programmes could impact positively on education.
7. Improved communication betweeen the Education Department and communities
The Education Department was required to keep communities updated regarding educational issues. For example, district offices presented analyses of Grade 1 to Grade 10 results each year. Church leaders should be invited to such presentations and asked to communicate back to their congregations.
8. Provide homework venues
Churches could make their facilities available to learners for study and homework purposes on weekday afternoons. Church members could participate in a supervision roster. This would help overcome the problem arising from the fact tham many learners’ households were not suitable as study venues.
There was a great need for churches to provide family counselling. Most learners came from broken or dysfunctional homes. This social instability was a stumbling block for education.
10. Support for educators
Churches could provide the following practical support to struggling educators in their congregations:
– stress management counselling
– financial management support
– wellness and peer pressure programmes
– family counselling
– get them involved in church activities
– motivational training aimed at restoring their dignity as teachers.
11. Behavioural support
Churches could assist schools to find effective ways of addressing serious learner issues in the areas of discipline, drug and alcolhol abuse, social delinquency and moral issues.
12. Timely admission applications
Churches should do their best to encourage parents to get their children’s school admission applications in on time (during September and October of the previous year). Late applications frequently delayed the start of teaching in schools.
13. Prayer at critical times
Churches should lift schools up in prayer, especially at critical times such as examinations or the beginning of the school term.
14. Disabled learners
In some communnities parents hid their disabled children at home. Churches could promote a culture in which it was safe for parents to be open about their disabled children so that they could access educational opportunnities.
15. Skills database
From time to time schools needed the services of people with particular skills in areas such as repairs, maintenance and security. Churches should create a database of unemployed church members and their skills which could be made available to schools.