By Jabu Kumalo

Since the introduction of the online registration system a few years ago, many frustrated parents have called for its scrapping.

They would rather go back to the old system where the placement of pupils was the duty of the schools.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) insists that the application is a breeze and does not even take three minutes and blames parents for not submitting all necessary documents to the schools.

The EFF Student Command National Spokesperson, Xola Mehlomakhulu, said though the online system was constructed to be technically beneficial to schools, it was a set up for disaster and exclusion… and ultimately must be rejected until it accommodates all.

Mehlomakhulu said: “The previously disadvantaged institutions struggle with a huge backlog of administrative issues. These range from a lack of support staff to process applications, to system failure that has led to pupils not getting assistance on time and being dragged from pillar to post. Not to mention pupils who don’t have access to gadgets and stay in impoverished villages and remote towns that don’t have access to the internet.

“A potential solution is a hybrid solution of both an online and physical registration process that affords pupils with issues of data connectivity and resources to connect to online systems, to not be left out.”

The National Association of School Governing Bodies secretary, Matakanye Matakanya, said we are now living in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and this system was trying to address that.

Matakanya told The Telegram: “Online registration is trying to address this issue. Granted, the 4IR has got its own issues. What we have to do is transform. This online registration is indeed difficult, that is why others are left out.

“The department needs to up its game. We have tried to speak to them about issues like opening centres where parents can register children. The other problem is that all other provinces are bringing their children to Gauteng.

“We grew up using donkeys in the villages to plough. Now, we cannot say if we are using a new method and it fails, we have to go back to using donkeys. It does not work that way.”

The National Association of Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa said this was not a bad system at all.

Parents queue for help at DBE offices in Pretoria

The organisation’s Executive Director, Basil Manuel, said: “When your car breaks down, you don’t abandon it and want to go for an ox wagon. You fix the car.

“In fact, if you look at the hundreds of thousands of children who are placed against the numbers that are not, you can see that it obviously does work.

“But my concern is that the problem seems to be recurring. Why are we not fixing these problems so we don’t have the same scenario every year? Now, there will always be unplaced pupils.

“Some of it has to do with parents. Some of it has to do with economics. When people at the last minute decide that they are moving, you can’t do anything and can’t blame them for that. Then, there are also parents who only apply for one school, hoping that will force the department or force the system to place them there.

“What if there is no place at that school? Then, they have no area to be placed in. They have created the problem.”

The Gauteng chairperson of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Bonginkosi Dhlamini, said the technical glitches in the system add to the frustration, “equally so, there are instances when some parents make incomplete applications or reject and dispute the choice of school given by the department.

“Despite technical challenges experienced with the system, much of how it works has improved. During this time last year over 35,000 pupils were without a school placement, this year the number has decreased to less than 1,000 pupils, according to the Gauteng Department of Education. The bulk of the challenge in school placements arises from the late applications.

“There is always room for improvement in the way we handle things. That includes the department ensuring the system’s glitches are kept to a minimum. We must have flexibility when technology fails us.

“Equally, we have to emphasise that parents make complete and timeous applications for school placement. We know the bulk of the backlog is due to late applications. Thirdly, department’s district offices must be effective centres of information.”

The Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) believes that in designing the system, the DBE and provinces need to be cognisant and alive to the realities of the communities in which these systems are introduced and implemented.

“The system needs to be alive to the lived realities of parents and pupils insofar as language and usability are concerned.

“Schools have also played their role in perpetuating exclusionary practices in favour of the online system of physical applications. This includes refusing to hand out physical applications and refusing to accept physical applications.

“We have received cases where schools unlawfully refuse to place learners whose parents are unable to pay registration and stationery fees. In other instances, schools continue to unlawfully exclude learners on the basis of not having documentation,” Pila-sande Mkuzo, attorney at the EELC said.

He said the ideal system is the hybrid one and the availability of support centres.

Mkuzo said though online registration has changed the way things are done, it has also presented obstacles for other groups of parents.  

“There is therefore a need for a dual system which does not create access for others while pushing others out of the system,” Mkuzo said.

Mkuzo said parents still remained with the duty to ensure that they apply within the prescribed time and follow due process.

“It is important to emphasise that whether parents apply on time or submit late applications, the crux is how the system is designed and managed.”

South African Democratic Teachers Union spokesperson, Nomusa Cembi, said the department should find ways of ensuring parents are on board by embarking on advocacy campaigns, teaching them how the new system works. She added that people should embrace technology and move with the times.

“More planning needs to happen not only from the side of the department, but from all government departments because one major cause of this is migration from rural provinces and even outside of the country to more affluent provinces like Gauteng and Western Cape,” Cembi said.

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