Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, has spoken frankly about the ongoing struggle with the price of school uniforms as parents battle to make ends meet.
“This is very close to my heart and I think anybody who comes from a poor background – like ourselves – or a township will tell you the value of a school uniform,” she said.
Motshekga announced that following years of investigations into complaints received from parents who were forced to buy school uniforms from exclusively-selected suppliers, the Competition Commission and School Governing Body Associations will finally sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Monday.
Last year, the commission and the Department of Basic Education jointly published a circular to provide schools and relevant stakeholders with guidance on best practices relating to all procurement undertaken by schools to curb anti-competitiveness.
Speaking during the School Governing Body (SGB) election cycle launch on Monday, the Minister said the commission and the department are working around the clock to ensure school uniforms are affordable and accessible.
However, scrapping school uniforms was not a viable solution.
“Home clothes are a big problem because they’re a social indicator and if you remove school uniforms you’re going to begin to show which kids come from rich families and those who don’t.”
She told the attendees at Abram Hlophe Primary School in Katlehong that one of the reasons for learners dropping out of high school was poverty.
“Young people are sensitive and if they don’t have designer clothes it embarrasses them… They don’t want to be seen in torn clothes and if they don’t have shoes it’s a big deal and impacts on the image, so they just drop out.”
Motshekga said children in high school are already “conscious of themselves”.
Having a uniform is the best equaliser and it helps the sector identify learners and manage their movements.
COVID-19 affect schools
Meanwhile, the Minister admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted schooling.
“The fact that we’re not able to have learners every day at school is a major curriculum problem. Learners now attend in shifts,” she added.
She called on communities to join hands with the department to assist learners manoeuvre through this difficult period.
“These are growing people, they’re young and restless, when they’re not at school we must keep them engaged and they must be able to socialise,” she said, adding that they should limit screen time.
Parents and caregivers must find ways to keep children occupied.
“This year’s Grade 12s attended school for less than six months. They came back in June and when they came back they had to rotate classes. It means schools are starting from 2020 before they can even deal with 2021. It’s a problem.”
Keep learners engaged
The Minister was concerned about reading competency levels in South Africa and believed not attending school every day due to COVID-19 will exacerbate the challenge.
She called on the SGBs to start reading clubs to ensure reading literacy is slowly improved.
In addition, she said she would like to see more children involved in extramural activities such as sport, poetry and debating programmes.
The Minister thanked parents for coming to the party to help clean schools after they were closed during lockdown.
“It was difficult because we were dealing with something we weren’t familiar with and they came to support us in terms of engagement of safety of learners, teachers and workers at school.
“It was during COVID-19 where I really felt the power and support of SGB more than I’ve experienced before.”
In instances where the department could not buy masks, parents bought them for their children. “They necessarily didn’t have money but they made sure the year is saved and we’re eternally grateful for that.”