Tom Stokes, MPP
DA KZN Spokesperson on Education
KWAZULU-Natal Education MEC, Senzo Mchunu’s edict to immediately ban all school excursions in the province is a cry from a man desperate in the face of a department unwilling or unable to take responsible action at their level of authority.
Despite there being a detailed and clear line of responsibility for the management of school excursions – which includes clear lines of accountability when things go wrong – it seems that, at every turn, it is necessary for the MEC to micro-manage.
His decision to take such extreme measures is perfectly understandable in the face of the recurring tragedies faced over the past months, with the devastating loss of our innocent children in road accidents. Unfortunately it is neither practically possible nor legal for this ruling to be enforced. There are many people who rely on school excursions for their livelihood which include transport companies, school tour operators and event centres. This abrupt veto on excursions will not only have a huge financial impact, it is also likely to result in some form of legal challenge.
Perhaps more disruptive is the effect this ban will have on the thousands of sports fixtures and cultural events that take place every weekend across the province. For many schools these programmes form an integral part of their curriculum and would have incurred the schools cost already.
There seems to be ample evidence that many school excursions are poorly planned, poorly managed and irresponsibly supervised. The responsibility for rectifying this lies with the principals and officials closest to the problem. They must be held accountable for the detailed planning and safety aspects of every trip taken by learners and need to face an enquiry if things go wrong. It is a principal’s responsibility to ensure that every vehicle used for transporting every learner is roadworthy, that it is not overloaded and that it is suitable for the planned trip.
These are the simple precautions every principal, supported by his/her staff is expected to undertake. Too often, and this seems to be at the heart of many of our other schooling problems, there is a failure on the part of school management to carry out the simplest over sight role with tragic consequences.
Rather than issue a blanket ban, the MEC needs to task every principal to submit to their local office, their schools’ safety and excursions policy within the next week and allow officials on the ground to determine which schools have the necessary competence – or not – to allow learners to leave the school for whatever reason. In this way a clear message will be sent to both school management and local officials that they are the responsible for ensuring the safety of the learners under their care and that they will consequently be held accountable when things go wrong.