Parent threatens to take online school application fight to court
Gauteng parents say language preference is ignored, and that the system is 'inconsistent' with the law
An irate Gauteng parent has threatened the provincial education department with an urgent court interdict if it did not postpone the opening of its online applications for next year’s Grade 1 and 8 pupils.
“A lot of parents that were concerned about the system came to us and complained. We are even party to a parent’s application for urgent intervention, which was not filed as the department responded,” said Riaan van der Bergh, the Gauteng deputy manager of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas).
Parents who were testing the online application system for high school and primary school complained that the results on the system were “inconsistent” with the law.
“When a learner is placed at a school, their language preference must be taken into account. The system does not consider language preference,” Van der Bergh said.
Also, parents want the online admissions platform to allow them to select a school of choice within the feeder zone based on both their residential and work addresses. At the moment, the placement system gives preference to the schools closest to the parents’ home addresses.
Fedsas then wrote to the department to complain that the system offers only one school – and it is the school closest to the home address – instead of offering parents the option to choose from all the schools in the feeder zone of the home address.
“Some schools are in feeder zones that do not cover the home address, but on the other side of the highway or somewhere further. This reveals a breakdown in computer logic,” said Van der Bergh.
The system was not accurate and revealed schools based on proximity rather than feeder zones.
“We are worried about the interpretation of the regulations.”
Also, some schools that are not in a feeder zone would appear as an option.
“We are confident and hopeful that the department will attend to the issues and come up with a more functional system. We suggested that they postpone it by a week; they are more than capable [of fixing it]. We are not opposed to technology, but we want one with proper functionality. We want the best for learners and parents,” said Van der Bergh.
The new admissions period will be from May 20 to July 22.
Van der Bergh will meet the department on Tuesday to discuss the matter and help it to find solutions.
Afrikaans lobby group AfriForum also sent the Gauteng education department a letter.
AfriForum's lawyer, Daniël Eloff, said: “There is no rational, reasonable and justifiable basis as to why a parent’s place of employment should rank lower than residence.”
The online system also does not accommodate gender-specific schools with boarding houses.
“Choices in this regard are therefore ignored,” said Eloff.
Regarding Grade R pupils applying for Grade 1, the system also did not take into account that these pupils were already enrolled at a primary school near their homes.
“Because no recognition is given to Grade R and place of employment ranks only third, parents may not be able to enroll the child in the same school where they already are,” wrote Eloff.
The Gauteng education department said on Sunday it decided to postpone the online applications after several stakeholders “pleaded” with education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, who said this all boiled down to language.
“If people are going to put their language above the interest of our children, it will be unfortunate,” Lesufi said on Sunday.
“The battle we are facing, and the reason why people are interdicting us, is they believe a certain language is under threat. And I’m assuring them, there is no language that is under threat, but there is no super language. All languages will be treated equally, but if people want to use language to exclude others, we’ll fight that battle.”