Getting an education in South Africa.

Growing up, all the kids in my neighbourhood went to the same school. The school was in the area, our parents assumedly handed in some paperwork and the nice principal said we could gladly attend his school. We walked to and from school and after sports or other extra mural activities, we went home because there was no aftercare. We envied our “latchkey” friends who would let themselves into their houses and stay there alone until their parents got home. Some of us stayed with our helpers and some of us were lucky enough to have a mom who didn’t work at all. That is how it was.

These days, things are different.

On Monday, I stood in a queue along with the rest of Gauteng, trying to enroll my child at a public school for Grade 1 next year. Some parents had been queuing for 48 hours, others were turned away because they were missing an all-important document like an unabridged birth certificate, and the general mood was one of disgruntled unhappiness at the process. While we were jovial in the queue, hoping for the best outcome, we all agreed that the process itself was absurd.

A quick summary of how it works for public schools: you may apply to any school you want but preference is given to those families who live or work within a 5km radius of the school. Preference is also given to those families who already have other children in the school. Preference is also given to those children who have attended a “feeder” pre-school. These children are placed on an A list. The B list is for anyone else who doesn’t fit any of those criteria but still wants to apply. You can see from the above, that B list applicants have very little chance. But I understand this process, it makes sense and it is fair. No problems there.

My problem however is this number system. For example, I stand in a queue so that I can be number one but at the end of the day if number 427 lives/works in the zone or has a sibling in the school, my number one means nothing and number 427 still has a better chance of being accepted than I do. In the same vein, if you fit all the criteria that will get you onto the A list, why ever would you go and stand in a queue anyway, if your application is somewhat “guaranteed” because you fit the criteria? I was led to believe that every single application will be reviewed in order to ensure that the children who HAVE to be placed in that school, are placed. So that means that you could apply at any point during the open registration period (13 April – 26 May) WITHOUT having to stand in a queue and you are guaranteed that your application will be reviewed, no? So why then do we queue? Are schools not following the policy as laid down by the government and only reviewing the first 200 or 300 applications? Are parents just anxious and so they try all routes to ensure their kid has a standing chance? Does it mean anything to be first in the queue? And if not, why then are we queueing at all?

Who can shed some light?

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