Schools inshort supply

Wendy June, Somerset West

In the past few weeks many Grade 7 pupils (along with their parents) have been waiting anxiously to hear if they have a place at their chosen school. For these families, it has been an extremely fraught and stressful time.

Daily, children would hear of peers being accepted into schools and yet many still waited patiently and quietly hoping a letter/email of acceptance would arrive.

Each passing day came with more anxiety, fear, stress and worry for both parent and child. With each child being accepted, others who had not heard began to lose hope.

Some gave up, others felt they were “no good” and some were reduced to tears of hopelessness.

In some cases, children who had not been accepted had other children (those with places) bragging and making out they were better than those with no places.

How do you think it felt for these children with no place at any school? How do you think these families felt? And the most important question “where will these children go?”

Almost all children will now know if they have a place at a secondary school or not and yes, there are many who are in the position of not knowing what 2017 holds for them. Many parents have received the letter stating their child was not accepted into their school(s) of choice. What next? Where to from here?

There is a massive problem in the Helderberg Basin in that we have many pre-primary and primary schools; however, we have only a few affordable secondary schools. Many primary schools have to feed into the few affordable “model C” secondary schools in the area.

This should be a big concern to our local community where our “Model C” secondary schools are overstretched and oversubscribed.

Yes, we have many private schools developing in the area and this is good, however, it does not help those who are not in a position to afford this type of schooling. We need another “Model C” secondary school in the area. As for the stress and pressure placed on our pupils at such an important time of their lives surely this is unacceptable. Applying for a place at a secondary school can be likened to applying for a sought-after position with a reputable company.

And the screening process is much the same too – only the cream of the crop are chosen. Children as young as 10 have to push themselves (or their parents are pushing them) in order to excel in academics, sport and culture. Instead of having a childhood where they can have free play, be with friends, pursue hobbies and simply be children; they are fretting about their marks, they are working abnormally long hours to make the grade, be it in academics or sport.

Childhood is passing them by in a flurry of panic and busyness simply because they need to fit the “tick box”. What has happened to the days when children could be children? Soon they will face the “real” world with all the stresses that come with that. Life is too short to be placing our children in a ‘rat race’ to see who is good enough to be accepted into a secondary school.

Our young teens are under too much pressure. It is no wonder we are seeing a rise in mental and behavioural disorders. Before we know it, we will be finding high striving children who are suffering from burn-out and exhaustion.

Those who do not make it into their chosen school in spite of pushing themselves to attain higher and higher grades are likely to face the feeling of hopelessness, despondency, lack of direction and lack of self pride. They may simply give up and fall by the wayside. They may end up suffering depression or worse.

As for the application process; this is long and tedious as well as exhausting for the parent. It is more like preparing a CV for your child along with a large amount of paperwork. To add to this, a parent is expected to apply to at least three schools so as to improve the chances of their child being accepted into one. What this does is create multiple applications to secondary schools which in turn inflates waiting lists and increases the work load for the admissions department of each school.

Each application is pages long and requires detailed information from the parents, copies of personal documents (this includes documents for both parents as well as the child), passport photos of the child, proof of residence, latest school reports, written and signed reports for activities attended out of school. In some cases pupils have to sign a substance abuse form.

This is not all; the primary schools also have to fill out forms giving details of the child’s personality and how they conduct themselves at school.

Teachers have to fill in details of sporting and cultural activities attended during school. The list of requirements is endless and the work created is excessive. By the time a parent has completed and handed in three or four applications they will feel quite drained and possibly disheartened. And then there is the actual choosing of which school to apply to. This takes time and much deliberation.

The parent and child then need to visit the open days, take tours of the schools and spend time deciding which school is best suited to their needs.

Following a visit to the schools, parents and children often decide on one or two schools they feel offer what they require. Often the decision is based on gut feeling. Of course all this in many cases is done in vain as the child could end up not being accepted into any of the schools they opt for. All the time wasted, all the work created, all that stress and research . . . and all for nothing. The truth is, for many, there are no options. This can be both disheartening and unsatisfactory for parents and pupils at what is already a fraught time.

Of course there is the other issue where one child is accepted into two or three different schools and they then accept all so as to keep their options open until they are sure where they want to go. This results in children being turned away as the school has no more places available.

Only later in the year will these places come up, however, by this time, many parents will have either hocked themselves to the hilt by enrolling at a private school, or they have had to make other plans such as relocating, sending children away to boarding school or family where there are places available or to research and opt for home schooling. As for the home school option; this does not work for many as it requires a parent who can be dedicated and disciplined. Not all children are suited to this option as they enjoy the social aspect of school and the stimulation and structure provided by school. Home schooling can also end up being a costly exercise.

It has also been said that once a child has been home schooled, it can be difficult to enroll them with a “Model C” school as they will be rejected due to government schools not doing assessments.

No matter what happens, these children who have not been accepted into any school are going to be affected in some way. Some may handle the situation in a positive manner, however others will experience lowered self esteem, and they will lose friendships which have been formed during their primary school years. This situation may also have a negative impact on all areas of these children’s schooling and general progression (reading, math, and language) and socio-emotional adjustment (peer relationships, self-esteem and problem behaviour).

Finally, we have the situation where children from areas as far a field as Grabouw are being accepted into “model C” schools within the Helderberg Basin. Yet children who live just 5 or 10 minutes drive away are being turned away. How can this be right? Surely children in the catchment area should be given priority. Many of these pupils have younger siblings at the pre schools and primary schools nearby and pass by the secondary school daily anyway.

You could say we have too many children and not enough school places as a result of our fast- growing city and population. This problem is not going to go away and it can only be exacerbated year on year. This year some “Model C” secondary schools received more than double the usual applications.

We do not need more luxury housing developments; we need more schools to educate our children who are the future of this country. As it is, we do not have the infrastructure to accommodate the influx in traffic caused by creating more housing estates. The uncertainty of secondary education is an issue for parents with children who are approaching senior school years.

Where will children who have not been offered places at Secondary schools go? They too have dreams and aspirations. Some of them may not have excelled at primary school; however, they are maturing and developing slowly, waiting until the time is right for them to blossom and show the world what they can offer.

Many children have no options available to them.

It is a sorry state of affairs.