300 SCHOOLS TO SHUT DOWN: DAILY DISPATCH

FED UP parents in the Eastern Cape have unofficially shut down close to 300 public schools in their communities, turning them into white elephants because they would rather send their children elsewhere to receive better schooling.

This comes amid reports the state is to spend R657-million less on new schools this year as provinces battle to meet demand.

Yesterday, opposition parties, Sadtu and NGO Equal Education lambasted the department, claiming it had failed to provide safe classrooms, teachers, food, transport, textbooks and stationery at schools which forced parents to move their children to other schools, even in other provinces.

They were reacting after education MEC Mandla Makupula made the shocking revelation while delivering his budget and policy speech at the Bhisho Legislature on Thursday.

“Communities have unofficially closed 294 public schools in the Eastern Cape. These are just being vandalised and the law requires we’ve got to [hold] public hearings.”

The hearings would ascertain whether the department should officially close down or merge affected schools.

The hearings across the department’s 23 districts are expected to result in the closure of many schools with less than 100 pupils.

The department had reportedly indicated earlier this year there were already 500 schools earmarked for closure due to low numbers.

Makupula’s statement comes after DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s comments sparked outrage when she called Eastern Cape pupils flocking to the Western Cape in search of better education “refugees”.

The Dispatch reported last month a Western Cape education department 10day snap survey, conducted at the beginning of the year, showed about 8 000 children from the Eastern Cape have unexpectedly entered the Western Cape’s education system.

Zille and her delegation, which comprises shadow education minister Annette Lovemore, shadow education MEC Edmund van Vuuren and MPL Vuyelwa Mvenya, are expected to visit schools faced with challenges in the province tomorrow.

COPE provincial leader Sam Kwelita said the party was concerned about the children.

“Our concern is for pupils who should be getting quality education and what happens to them when these schools are closed.”

Kwelita said low quality education had caused movement of pupils between communities, not only provinces.

Van Vuuren said: “Parents feel their children are not getting better education. At certain schools there is a high rate of teacher absenteeism, resulting in the numbers of learners decreasing as parents send their children to other schools.”

The DA supported the process to close schools with too few pupils.

“It’s a waste to pump resources into schools with low numbers that are in close proximity. Rather, close these schools and build a school with a hostel for these communities,” they said.

UDM MPL Jackson Bici said the move by parents showed a breakdown of relations with the department.

“Parents want to see their children studying closer to their homes but their schools are unsafe and don’t have teachers and the necessary equipment. This is why parents send their children elsewhere,” he said.

Equal Education head of policy Yoliswa Dwane said it showed parents had given up on the department.

“The Eastern Cape has 395 mud schools and some bad structures. Principals get tired of writing to the department which does not take action.”

Lack of resources, Dwane said, had resulted in high drop-out and failure rates.

Sadtu provincial secretary Mncekeleli Ndongeni said the department should not be “excited” by the closure of schools just because it wanted to “save resources”.

“This means they are failing to deliver. Parents are taking their children to where they can access food, transport and [adequate] teachers. All children are entitled to education.”

Education spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said a list of schools affected would be known once they had been gazetted, which would be by the end of May. — msindisif@dispatch.co.za