SOUTH AFRICA's new president has vowed to clamp down on schools that perform poorly. Thabo Mbeki said the government would begin sacking below-par headteachers, and sending "guerrilla units" to conduct spot checks on schools.
The government is getting tough with ill-disciplined schools following yet another year when more than 50 per cent of pupils failed school-leaving exams.
Speaking during the ruling African National Congress's 88th birthday celebrations, Mr Mbeki said that heads who repeatedly produce bad results should be sacked - just as if they were managing directors of companies which made a loss.
The government intends to create "guerrilla units" made up of provincial education officials who will arrive at schools unannounced to see what staff and pupils are doing. "I am told of instances where, as schools open in the morning, teachers and pupils walk to the nearest shebeen and sit drining," he said.
Many schools in poor areas are plagued by lack of discipline and violence. Lessons are offered only occasionally. Until now, however, their heads have rarely been fired.
There are many examples of excellent schools in poor areas. But, until recently, poor performance in disadvantaged schools was blamed on lack of resources, apartheid curricula and teacher training, and disruption through protest. These schools tended to be sites of the anti-apartheid struggle when the slogan of a generation of black pupils was "liberation before education".
Mr Mbeki conceded that continued lack of basic infrastructure and resources was a problem. But good teaching was possible in difficult circumstances, he said.
In a highly-publicised move this week, the education minister Kader Asmal and provincial education ministers have been driving around ensuring schools are up and running after the holidays.