PARENTS TAKE STAND OVER EDUCATION CRISIS: WEEKEND POST

DA leader in the provincial legislature Bobby Stevenson said Eastern Cape education was in a “shambles” and “a shocking violation of human rights”.

PARENTS in the province felt ignored and powerless when the Eastern Cape Education Department sacked more than 6 000 teachers, stopped feeding schemes and cut pupils’ transport. They are now so frustrated that many have marched in protest to demand a better education for their children.

Staff at several schools in the Eastern Cape told Weekend Post they were at their wits’ end – and tired of watching pupils being robbed of their right to an education.

Over the past few weeks furious parents, staff and pupils have marched to the district education office to air their grievances. Fed-up parents in Grahamstown have followed suit by marching to their district education office.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has sent a task team to deal with the province’s beleaguered Education Department. It is a move some say they’ve seen before – with little result.

According to Professor Graeme Bloch, education specialist from the Wits School of Public and Development Management, the Eastern Cape has for years battled overcrowding and poor education in many schools. This is being aggravated by the teacher cutbacks. “Parents are quite right to object and to show their anger.”

Bloch said the widespread problem of large and overcrowded classes – Sanctor High School in Port Elizabeth reportedly has more than 100 pupils in some classes – coupled with poor facilities “almost guarantee poor results”.

“The Eastern Cape Education Department should learn not to cut back (on) areas that affect the children and their right to learn,” Bloch said.

“We need more teachers. Why not rather cut back on officials or head office? It is virtually impossible to teach well in a huge class.”

He described the cutting of transportation for pupils and threats to the school nutrition system as “an outrage”.

“The impact of these measures is to affect young kids and their educational prospects badly .

“Rather, those who steal school nutrition funds or get textbook kickbacks should be charged and wasteful expenditure ended.

“We just don’t see the political will to improve the education of the poor.”

DA leader in the provincial legislature Bobby Stevenson said Eastern Cape education was in a “shambles” and “a shocking violation of human rights” and would “destroy the future of young people”, he added.

On the team sent to the province by Motshekga, he said: “We’ve had endless teams from national government in the past, but if we don’t root out the rotten eggs from the system we will sit with the same problems every year. If they don’t perform they must be fired.”

He said there was “mounting anger” across the province.

“Past problems of overcrowded classrooms have now exacerbated with the termination of 4 250 teachers’ (jobs) in the province.”

One solution would be the immediate reinstatement of these teachers; another would be for the department to issue a bulletin to resolve the problem of the province’s 5 000 teachers now employed at schools in subjects no longer offered.

Stevenson said 1.6-million children were no longer benefiting from the school feeding scheme, 100 000 needed school transport and 1 130 schools had received no stationery since the new school year started. Money meant for infrastructure had to be ring-fenced and not spent on salaries, Stevenson said, as huge infrastructure backlogs meant 21% of schools in the province had no electricity and 20% no water.

At Helenvale Primary School in Port Elizabeth, where some classes have up to 55 pupils, the feeding scheme has been stopped and there is a shortage of four teachers.

Two of these were temporary staff and the other two were on sick leave, principal Malcolm Roberts said. One had been off sick for four years; the other since November.

“We have applied for teachers to be reinstated but are still waiting,” he said.

His school has received no stationery, and only some of the textbooks needed.

Swartkops Primary School principal Damon Labans said his school had also not received stationery.

“We received workbooks for the Foundation Phase, many in Afrikaans, which is not the language of learning and teaching at Swartkops.”

Classes of close to 40 pupils were the norm and the school was battling with only 16 teachers, two of them on incapacity leave (one since 2005 and one since 2009).

Labans said the situation was so bad he and his deputy were forced to teach full-time.

At Sapphire Road Primary School in Booysen Park, principal Bruce Damons is facing similar problems.

“We lost seven temporary teachers and transport was also stopped. Pupils walk from Kleinskool, KwaNoxolo, Jacksonville and KwaDwesi.

“Some of the children have to walk past dangerous areas where robberies, rape and murder take place.”

Overcrowding is a daily reality and Damons has had to turn away “hundreds of children”.

“The English classes are filled to the brim and have about 48 children. In the Afrikaans classes there are up to 37 children.”

A staff member at Sanctor High School said protesting staff returned to their classrooms on Thursday in an effort to “create some sort of normality” for the pupils.

Save Our Schools and community volunteer Nomalanga Mkhize, based in Grahamstown, said the education situation in that city was “appalling”.

“Almost every school in Grahamstown’s township suffers from teacher shortages. The parents are livid. There is hardly any teaching taking place.”

Mkhize said those parents who could had already marched to the district Education Department twice to complain.

“The department has come under siege from furious parents,” she said.

Humansdorp Senior Secondary School principal Ivan Geswint said to bring down the large number of children to 45 in a class, the school had to employ five teachers “using school fees”.

Education Department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said the department “fully appreciates the challenges posed by the non-renewal of temporary teacher posts”.