Bloemfontein – Government should auction schools off to the private sector in an effort to deliver quality education, said Frans Cronje, deputy CEO of the Institute for Race Relations.
"Take government out of the education system, but [ensure] they retain one responsibility: that is to fund education," Cronje told the annual general meeting of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas) in Bloemfontein.
He said the ANC-led government seemed unable to save the schooling system, even though its own survival depended on it.
He suggested a radical change to education in the country, such as through the auctioning off of schools to communities, organisations and the private sector for a nominal fee.
The new owners of the schools would be able to set the management fees and appoint teachers and principals, because they would own the school outright.
Cronje said this system could be funded by the government giving vouchers to parents of school-going children.
"Parents can take that voucher to any school for part or full payment for school fees."
He said this had two benefits.
Firstly, he suggested, that there would be a sharp increase in quality education due to the market created for vouchers.
The second benefit was parents would take on the responsibility of ensuring that their children received a proper education.
"Give parents the benefit of deciding where and how to educate their children," he said.
Cronje said parents had a far greater interest in quality education for their children than any bureaucrat.
He agreed that the whole schooling system could not be revamped at once, but said government and parents should start somewhere.
"Begin with what works and move out to areas where things are not right," he said, adding there was no sense in pulling down schools that already worked well.
Cronje said people had high expectations of the government.
"Without an improvement in the quality of education the South African government would not be able to meet the expectations of its people."
He said the ANC government had raised living standards in South Africa very quickly in the past years, in part, through the social grant system.
With it, people’s expectations and aspirations had also increased.
However the government did not have a proper plan as to how to meet these expectations, suggested Cronje.
He said a worrying aspect was that the ruling party, which was restricted by in-fighting, was unable to unite around a philosophy and common plan on how to manage themselves.