BACK-TO-SCHOOL FIASCO: THE HERALD

Many of the parents seeking late registration were from township areas and saw schools in the northern areas as a better alternative to the schools in their areas, DA education spokesman Edmund van Vuuren said.

AS pupils in the Eastern Cape begin an uncertain school year today – with the Education Department admitting it is “not ready” – some Port Elizabeth schools are being mobbed by parents desperate to secure a “better” education for their children.

Education analysts and school principals said parents from some Bay townships were refusing to enrol their children in schools in their areas and had besieged northern areas schools “at the last minute” in the hope of securing a better future for their children.

But the problems for pupils begin at a much higher level than individual schools. Across the province, the first day of the term will see:

● More than 100 000 pupils left in the lurch due to the suspension of transport for all schools, except farm schools;

● Teacher shortages after the contracts of 6 000 temporary teachers were suspended late last year, and

● A total of 1 130 schools classified as Section 20 schools will be without stationery after the tender was cancelled amid allegations of corruption.

The cash-strapped Education Department appeared to admit defeat yesterday, when it made the startling announcement that it would not be ready for the reopening of schools today.

“Obviously, in the current circumstance there is no way we can say we are ready. I think we are starting a good year in a very bad way,” education superintendent-general Modidima Mannya told the education portfolio committee in the Bhisho legislature.

Education MEC Mandla Makupula was scathing about his officials, admitting they were “tardy and inept”.

“People just sit there. There is no sense of urgency in terms of responding to issues.”

While the department is already responsible for pupils starting the term on the wrong foot, schools in the Gelvandale area were struggling to deal with the flood of parents who waited until the eleventh hour to register their children yesterday.

Many of the parents seeking late registration were from township areas and saw schools in the northern areas as a better alternative to the schools in their areas, DA education spokesman Edmund van Vuuren said.

Schools in the New Brighton area were already “standing empty” because parents were either sending their children to the so called “coloured” or former Model C schools.

“The parents all say they want their children to have a better education and they think they can find it in schools in the northern areas.

“The former Model C schools aren’t being swamped as much – they completed their registration processes last year already.

“But every year, the principals from schools in the northern areas sit with the huge problem of late registrations. A school can only take in so many pupils. Parents really need to be educated to register early,” he said.

Scores of parents formed queues at the schools yesterday, desperately pleading their case, with some refusing to take no for an answer. But principals had to turn most of them away as the schools were already bursting at the seams.

Helenvale Primary School principal Malcolm Roberts had to turn away parents after registering 40 late enrolments – most for Grade 1. “The school is already overflowing. We just cannot accommodate any more pupils,” he said.

Gelvandale Primary School principal Pieter Williams said that, like yesterday, he expected a heavy turnout of parents hoping to enrol their children today.

“There simply isn’t space. Desperate parents have even been begging us to phone neighbouring schools to hear if they have space,” he said.

National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA Eastern Cape head Peter Duminy said the biggest headache was the absence of temporary teachers.

“One teacher too few is problematic. The minimum number of pupils in a class is 30 or more, so this problem must be addressed urgently,” he said.

Zwide’s Daniels Lower Primary School principal Margaret Mvane said more than 120 children had been left without teachers now that the contracts of temporary teachers had been terminated. “This places an even heavier workload on the already overburdened teachers and overcrowded classrooms.

“As it stands now, I am without three teachers. I will have to do some clever manoeuvring to make sure each child has a teacher when the school opens,” she said.

Education specialist Professor Susan van Rensburg warned that the department was failing pupils before their school careers had even begun. “All of the problems could have been taken care of had the department planned sufficiently.

“The thousands of children who go to school with the hope of receiving a good education are victims of the system.”

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