Our hero this week is the Gauteng Department of Education, which seems to have gained a new lease on life under recently appointed premier David Makhura. In May he announced his 10-member cabinet, including former education spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi, who's now education MEC.
Lesufi has wasted no time in coming to the defence of pupils and parents – at the beginning of June he ordered a school that allegedly humiliated girl pupils by checking them for sign of sexual activity to apologise to them, their parents and, according to departmental spokesperson Phumla Sekhonyane, “to apologise unreservedly to South Africans. We believe it's very important to respect the dignity of our learners."
Lesufi said his department would protect the right of schoolgirls. He has already stated that he wants to clamp down on teacher and pupil misconduct, by setting up a permanent body which will deal with those issues. In his first two weeks, he is reported to have fired two teachers who sexually assaulted pupils."I am going to be remembered in this department as the person that expelled the most teachers and learners," he said.
He has also set his sights on gangs operating in Soweto and East and West Rand schools, that are responsible for bringing drugs and weapons onto the premises, distributing pornography, and disrupting the environment in other vile ways. "We have given ourselves 100 days to crush them," Lesufi said, adding that pupils found with drugs, alcohol or weapons at school would be suspended before undergoing a disciplinary process.
He has already made known his goal of obtaining the best matric results in the country, recruiting committed teachers, and providing clean water, sanitation and power to schools. As if that wasn’t enough, his ultimate aim is, within three years, to establish paperless classrooms, where every child will use a tablet and the internet to carry out the work, doing away with pens and paper. This will ease the administrative burden for teachers, he reasoned, and children would no longer have to rely on stationery and textbooks, which may or may not arrive.
And “educators and officials will be hired on merit and nothing else,” said the ambitious MEC. “We are investing in the future.”
While this may seem somewhat lofty at this stage, given the struggle faced by the national and provincial departments just to provide the most basic facilities, we can’t fault Lesufi for his get-up-and-go attitude.