Section27 is preparing court papers to force the Department of Basic Education to improve the dire state of infrastructure in two Limpopo schools. The decay doesn’t stop there: textbooks still have not been received, overcrowding remains a problem and education is being hampered by a shortage of desks and chairs. By GREG NICOLSON.
Attempts to engage the Department of Education to fix infrastructure in two Vhembe District, Limpopo schools have failed and Section27 will institute legal proceedings in the next two weeks demanding mobile classrooms are deployed while the problems are fixed.
One of the schools is Jaji Secondary, which the public interest law centre revealed in February suffers such bad leaks that when it rains students spend hours each day clearing the water before they sit inside their classrooms with umbrellas. The department promised to fix the roof but on visiting the site recently Section27 saw no work has been done.
At Tshianane Secondary School, Section27 found large portions of the roof had been blown off by the wind, leaving gaping holes. School is cancelled when it rains and when it is hot students huddle in the corner to avoid the sun. The wind blows debris inside and the exposure is damaging the structure of the building. School officials told Section27 they asked the department to fix the roof but were told there is no money for the repairs.
David Makhavhani, chairman of Tshianane’s school governing body, said the conditions are currently very hot in the classrooms. “The teachers have no space to work. [The roof] is still now falling out,” he told Daily Maverick in a phone conversation. He described a school in disrepair – broken desks, smashed windows and a repugnant smell. Makhavhani said that because the roof doesn’t offer shelter, the walls and floor are cracking and becoming dangerous. “It’s now coming to winter and we have a huge problem… [Students] can’t learn very well and sometimes when it’s raining they cannot sit there because it’s raining inside,” said Makhavhani.
Asked what Section27 hopes to gain from going to court, the organisation’s Skhumbuzo Maphumulo said on Wednesday, “We want to fix that mess. It’s as simple as that. We want to give children mobile classrooms while they make repairs and make sure teaching and learning is not interrupted.” In past cases against the government, intimidation has been reported. “People are willing to take the risk. Either you see it and keep quiet or you fight,” said Maphumulo.
Photo: A teacher at Jaji Secondary School, Limpopo, uses an umbrella to keep her dry from the leaking ceiling while writing on the board. (Photo: Section 27)
Department of Basic Education spokesman Panyaza Lesufi didn’t engage on details but said the department shares the same vision as Section27 in wanting to improve education but is under the constraints of running a state. Court is a neutral venue, he said, and it’s important to remember it may not agree with Section27. “It’s unfortunate that we have a misunderstanding on how to solve the issue,” he added.
Taking the department to court is looking less and less effective after Section27 toured 19 schools in Limpopo and found many were still without textbooks for 2013 and some had not received stock for 2012. After failing to deliver textbooks to many Limpopo schools in 2012, the Department of Basic Education, which is responsible for the province’s education after the provincial department of education was placed under administration in 2011, was ordered by the court to deliver outstanding stocks and ensure schools had 2013 textbooks before they started teaching in 2013.
When the department finally acted, it was acknowledged for having improved the situation. “The delivery of all outstanding textbooks was therefore completed by 12 October 2012. The department is in possession of the proof of delivery documents,” stated the Department of Basic Education in an affidavit last year.
Section27’s Nikki Stein said the situation is “pretty urgent” with the department in breach of the October 2012 court order. The organisation found there were shortages in most schools it visited, with nine out of the 19 schools saying most of their 2013 stock had not been delivered.
The missing books mimic last year’s crisis – grades switching to the new CAPS curriculum (grades 4, 5, 6 and 11), are the most affected and cannot use books from last year. In 2012 the problem particularly affected grades 1, 2, 3 and 10, meaning, “Many of the kids affected by last year’s problems are also affected by this year’s problems… That means those individual kids have been without books for over a year,” commented Stein.
“There we differ with them fundamentally,” responded Lesufi. “We have presented the report to courts and the report has been accepted by the court and we have done well,” he said, noting the large improvement since 2012. According to the spokesman, 100% of textbooks have been delivered in Limpopo. Section27 has to remember that in no province does every student have a textbook for every subject, he said.
Photo: Students at Jaji Secondary School, Limpopo, have to use umbrellas in the classroom because of the leaking ceiling. (Photo: Section 27)
Section27 has sent a letter of demand to the Department of Basic Education calling for independent verification of textbook delivery and textbooks to be sent to schools they have verified are missing books by 26 April and sent to other identified schools by 7 May. It will take the department to court again if those dates are not met. “There has been some delivery but many schools have still not received textbooks. The problem is we don’t know how many,” said Stein. One primary school Section27 visited had received no new books for grades 1 to 6.
The department would welcome independent verification of delivery, responded Lesufi. “But who would that be [who performs the verification] and who pays? If they pay that’s cool but we feel there is no need.” The SA Human Rights Commission is conducting a nation-wide inquiry into the provision of learning materials and Lesufi asked why Section27 cannot wait for the inquiry to be completed before tackling the issue.
But education problems in Limpopo keep mounting. The Department of Basic Education was required to deliver additional desks and chairs by 31 March but said there is a problem with service providers. Stein said she saw schools where children sit on the floor, others sharing desks, and some standing. In some Limpopo schools, getting a chair depends on the time you arrive at school so some students arrive by 6:00. Other students carry their own chair to school, carrying it throughout the whole day, whether they go to the bathroom, are on lunch, or playing.
A furniture audit has been completed but Stein thinks it is likely to grossly underestimate the furniture requirements. “The department has said there are 200,000 kids without their own desks and chairs but we think it’s far more than that,” she said. Some of the schools Section27 visited were due to receive only half or a third of the desks and chairs they required, which Stein believes is likely due to using old enrollment figures.
Photo: The damaged roof at the Tshianane Secondary School means students have to huddle on one side of the classroom when it is hot and school is suspended when it is raining. (Photo: Section 27)
Providing furniture to schools is the responsibility of the provincial department, said Lesufi, claiming that what the Department of Basic Education can do in Limpopo, as well as other provinces, is limited. The department wants to increase its role in the process of providing furniture, he added.
Furniture shortages add to overcrowding problems and in some schools teachers are being forced to hold class outside. “What we’re seeing is that some classes are being held outside in direct sunlight with traffic coming past, so you can’t hear what your teacher is saying,” Stein observed. She saw one Grade 10 class with one teacher and 140 pupils and other classes with 90, 100 and 120 pupils. With such overcrowding, classes sometimes take turns of teaching inside and teaching outside.
“I think what we’re seeing is basically a collapse in the system and we need to look at what the role of the courts is and how they are respected,” said Stein, adding that the purpose of placing the provincial department under administration was for the Department of Basic Education to improve situation. “Just looking at where they are now, to be very honest, the intervention was in December 2011, in some ways the schools have stayed the same, in some ways they’re worse because of deteriorating conditions.”
The file of issues suggests a much bigger problem. There’s not just one problem in an otherwise functioning system, says Stein, but common problems across a number of areas. The national executive and the province are responsible for the failure. DM
Main photo: Students at Jaji Secondary School, Limpopo, have to use umbrellas in the classroom because of the leaking ceiling. (Photo: Section 27)
"The soul is known by its acts" ~ Thomas Aquinas