OPINION: Parents, please stop complaining

So you don't like how your local schools are being run, and you're tired of complaining? Then do something about it.

The third-largest public elections after national, provincial and local election are underway at every school across the country. More than 5 million people are voting for the school governing bodies (SGBs). So can you and help determine your child's education.

You see, democracy is defined as the people having free choices. They get to choose the leaders who will oversee the operations of government and decide what services will be provided and how to equitably raise the funds through taxes to fund those services.

In our system of government, unlike many other forms available, the people by their votes, make the selections from among their fellow citizens as to who will be empowered to make these key decisions.

But SGB elections are a little different from the general election. There are no formal party lists. There is no slate of political party candidates. You can do it. As long as you are on the ballot, you have the same chance as other candidates to be listed first on the ballot. As a voter, you can vote for whoever you deem fit to be member of the SGB.

For those who get elected, what happens next? You're sworn in as an elected SGB member. Then you'll find yourself participating in how your local school is being run, including deciding on every expenditure that is made, worrying about fixing the school roof; and making the decision on whether to hire more teachers.

Those are things you found easy to complain about before you were elected. Now, community members are going to complain to you. You have the power to propose policies that will address their concerns, and also learn there are no easy solutions to those complaints.

Once you are a member of the SGB, understand that you will be one of a very few residents in your community who is responsible for the education of all the children.

You'll receive plenty of guidance from professional educators and administrators. But even with this help, only you and the other SGB members can make the final decision. So, don't sit back!

You may ask what does the SGB do. Generally speaking, the SGBs develops policies that guide the school and the school districts, evaluates trends and needs of the school and the district, helps oversee the implementation of school's mission and vision, help develop a school budget and employ, direct and evaluate the principal of the school.

Why should residents, parents and communities care about the SGB elections?

Here are the qualities I believe voters should look for in an SGB candidate:

• Puts children first. An SGB candidate should believe that each and every child deserves an equal, quality education. He or she must have a true commitment to our country and province's future, its children and public education without a political agenda. He or she must also have a passion for children and a proven history of advocacy on their behalf.

• Provides leadership. A potential SGB official is an innovative problem solver who is able to communicate effectively, ask questions, listen and develop a vision for the future. He or she should also be a risk taker who seeks to build consensus and to make real change.

• Appreciates diversity. A qualified SGB candidate must recognise the diversity of cultures and demonstrate a willingness to address the social needs of all children, their families and our community.

• Shows a commitment to outreach. He or she must be willing to make the time commitment to do outreach work in our schools and neighbourhoods.

• Understands budget and finances. It is important for SGB candidate to be committed to engage citizens in the school board's decision-making process. He or she must also possess good contract negotiating skills.

• Knows educational policy issues. A suitable candidate must be familiar with educational policy and the role of the school board in policy-making.

• Demonstrates integrity. He or she must be a person who is honest and trustworthy and holds positive principles and values.

• Is involved with the schools. A qualified SGB candidate and then member must have a personal connection to the public schools or to education more generally.

• Supports parental involvement. He or she must be a strong advocate for involving parents.

• Expects accountability. Lastly, he or she must be able to hold Gauteng and our country's public officials, teachers and administrators accountable to the community.

I have had the opportunity to work with SGBs. I have admired those who have the ability and desire to learn and listen, a talent to work through difficult problems and issues, a great interest in topics from children's needs, a love for the environment and a fluidity and flexibility in leadership style, the most helpful in determining the future of our children.

It's a good mix. The ability to lead a school takes guile, cunning, planning abilities, delegation capabilities, balance and fortitude. It also helps to have an organised mind, the ability to sift the wheat from the chuff and the vision to carry out what is needed.

Gauteng desperately needs good public schools. Without quality education, we will never be able to attract and retain businesses that pay livable wages with health benefits.

Most residents will not relocate to an area that does not boast great schools along with access to cultural venues, parks and other advantages.

The communities - individuals such as parents, educators and concerned residents, as well as businesses, community organizations and faith-based institutions - need to work in partnership to ensure that every Gauteng child receives a quality education. This requires dialogue among all the stakeholders, but especially between the SGBs and the larger community.

So, don't sit back! Participate in the election of the SGBs.

Panyaza Lesufi is the Gauteng Education MEC.