School readiness is a contested and emotional term.
It is invoked regularly in discussions on improving the quality of schooling outcomes and pupil performance, and on better preparation of young people for life and to facilitate transition to post-school opportunities.
Readiness means different things to different people. Sometimes, readiness is described in terms of age or stage of development.
At other times, checklists of readiness’ skills and knowledge are used to identify what children should be able to do or know before they start school. Still other definitions of readiness emphasise social, emotional, curricula and infrastructural aspects.
As communities reiterate the importance of education, as families seek to support their children’s success in education, and as teachers face increasing calls for accountability, there is renewed attention paid to notions of the readiness of schools to receive and educate our future leaders on a daily basis.
In any definition of readiness for school, pupils and the schools they attend are important. That is why the Gauteng department of education (GDE) has proactively monitored public schools on a quarterly basis to ensure that all are ready for 2017.
To date, there are pupils, 368 264 pupils enrolled in Gauteng schools. An increase of 105 945 pupils were recorded between 2015 and 2016 total enrolments.
This represents an increase of 4.47%. Rapid in-migration remains a contributing factor to the growth in pupil numbers.
The department is grateful for the cooperation it has received from parents that heeded the call to use the online system.
It is acknowledged that some parents faced frustration during the application and placement period.
By the beginning of 2017, more than 40000 pupils were still not placed. The department will work around the clock to place all pupils and inform parents.
When we consider readiness for schools, we must consider the role of families, schools, communities and government. After all, children do not live in isolation.
Families and communities provide critical support systems for children and they nurture school readiness gradually over time.
Communities have another important role to play in defining and shaping perceptions of readiness. The government and communities provide infrastructure and social links that together make up social capital.
As the government, we work with speed and great resolve to implement policy goals of our transformation programmes. Through interventions, we improve the quality of learning.
The government and communities with high levels of social capital provide a range of benefits for children through the relationships that exist and the availability of resources.
Physical resources, such as schools, child care and health services, are important. So, too, are rich relationships that buffer and support families.
That is why the GDE is preparing to deliver eight new brick and mortar schools, 12 new alternative construction technology (ACT) schools, 603 additional ACT classrooms, 314 Grade R classrooms and 160 toilet blocks.
In addition 74 ACT classrooms were relocated to schools in high admission pressure areas to alleviate overcrowding. Of the new infrastructure, eight new brick and mortar schools are scheduled to open this month.
Schools and curricula must be designed to meet children’s individual learning needs, and communities and governments can support readiness by offering various levels and types of support, as well as opportunities that assist parents and communities in meeting the developmental needs of young children.
While it is particularly important to consider pupils as individuals as they start school, it is also important to acknowledge that children do not exist in isolation, they are members of families, communities, cultural and friendship groups, and so on.
Neither are schools culturally neutral spaces.
Schools and those within them have a range of expectations that impact on how readiness is defined and enacted.
To meet children’s individual learning needs, the delivery for Grade 11 and 12 literature textbooks and stationery for all pupils has been completed.
To address furniture needs, orders were placed and deliveries to schools to the value of R26m started last October.
Many people and groups contribute to pupil readiness.
Readiness develops over time and through cumulative experiences and interactions, mediated by relationships.
The GDE is transporting 102090 pupils. Given that most of the pupils who migrate from other provinces stay in the informal settlements, this number is projected to go up to 112 300 in 2017.
To date 1 343 413 pupils in 1 621 schools across the province receive a meal at school as part of the school nutrition programme.
The number is likely to increase to an estimated 1 574 380 due to migration from other provinces.
The department will implement its new approach to scholar nutrition after completing an open and competitive bidding process. The GDE wishes all our pupils the best of luck in 2017.
Panyaza Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for education