The call for learners to return to full-time classes comes at a time where the lives of our learners, teachers and staff are being put at risk daily, due to the mismanagement of the Department of Education in the province during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Overcrowded classrooms, inappropriate sanitation and even the removal of temporary toilet facilities are all adding to the unsafe environment at schools.
In response to parliamentary questions, Education MEC Fundile Gade confirmed that at least 29% (1514) of schools in the Eastern Cape are deemed to be overcrowded. Overcrowded schools are defined as schools where the learner teacher ratios are one teacher to more than 40 learners in a primary school, and one teacher to more than 35 learners in a high school. (IQP 4 q69).
Not only are our schools overcrowded, but out of the 1598 schools that were deemed to have inappropriate sanitation during 2020, the Department, through the assistance of the National Department of Basic Education (DBE), only supplied 970 schools with temporary, leased toilets (IQP 49 q21).
Worse, when asked, MEC Gade confirmed that DBE had put a stop to supplying mobile toilets as the cost of the programme was not sustainable, with DBE opting to focus on the failed Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) programme (IQP 7 q153).
As of April 2021, only 86 schools have been provided with safe sanitation, the remaining schools are not compliant with the COVID-19 safety regulations, which puts our learners, teachers, and school staff at high risk.
Since its inception by President Ramaphosa in 2018, the SAFE programme faces its own challenges. In the 2016/17 financial year, the Department managed to upgrade the sanitation facilities of 88 schools. In 2017/18, they managed to upgrade 86 schools and the year after that, in the 2018/19 financial year, they only managed 44 schools.
In 2019/20, just 32 schools were upgraded, when the original target was 262 but was then reduced to 178, and in the 2020/2021 financial year just 24 schools had their sanitation facilities upgraded when the target was 240.
I will be writing to the Portfolio Committee Chairperson, Mpumelelo Saziwa to ask that he summon the Department to explain how learners and their families will be protected should all learners return to full-time classes.
A capable state would uphold the dignity of our learners and provide safety measures to protect its learners, teachers, and school staff. I comparison, the Eastern Cape Government has left schools to fend for themselves, using their already limited maintenance and municipal services budget, which will only create more debt for these schools in the future.