Life-threatening, unhygienic school year facing more than 100,000 EC Learners

Life-threatening, unhygienic school year facing more than 100,000 EC Learners

More than 100,000 learners will start their academic year facing life-threatening, unhygienic conditions because the Department of Education has still failed to eradicate pit latrines at their schools.

These learners are facing the very real choices of having to relieve themselves in nearby bushes, where they are extremely vulnerable to sexual predators as well as snakes, or make use of toilets that could cost them their lives or, at the very least, make them violently ill.

If learners are lucky enough to live nearby, and teachers are lenient enough, they may be allowed to go home to relieve themselves, but this significantly disrupts their learning.

In response to a parliamentary question late last year, Education MEC Fundile Gade revealed that based on 2023 enrolment figures, 113,041 learners at 427 schools across the province still use pit latrines.

Download the response and annexure.

These toilets have proven to be death traps, especially for younger learners, as seats for pit toilets are often not sized for them, and they can easily fall through into the pits below. Of the 427 schools listed, 141 are primary schools.

Drastically cut budgets for repairs and maintenance for these schools make it near-impossible to maintain pit latrine facilities, resulting in overflowing, smelling toilets that pose a very real health risk to learners and educators alike.

Despite the significant health risks that these toilets pose and the impact that the lack of proper sanitation facilities has on learners receiving a suitable education, the MEC revealed that his Department only plans to eradicate pit latrines at 50 schools this financial year.

In a report tabled in the Eastern Cape Legislature last year October, the public protector found that the provision of basic education by the Department is at risk of being compromised by the lack of proper school infrastructure or facilities.

The Public Protector stated that it is evident that basic and essential infrastructure, such as ablution and sanitation facilities, are still lacking in several schools and instructed the Department to conduct an audit and develop a medium to long-term plan within 60 calendar days of the report being tabled, to address school challenges related to basic infrastructure.

That deadline has since passed, and I will be writing to the Portfolio Committee chair for Education, Mpumelelo Saziwa, to ask that the Department be called before the committee to account, and that the report be provided to the committee.

Clearly, the Education Department does not have the internal capacity to manage infrastructure development projects.

The DA will continue the fight to ensure that all learners receive a quality education in a safe and dignified environment.