Maverick Citizen: Eastern Cape 

Victory for parents as court orders new classrooms for heavily overcrowded schools

By Estelle Ellis 19 February 2020

According to its plans for bringing the province up to education norms, the Eastern Cape Department of Education has estimated that it will need R11.7-billion — but it says it does not have the budget for this.

After failing for years to build classrooms at four schools where some class numbers are close to 100, the Mthatha High Court ordered the Eastern Cape Department of Education to provide 65 classrooms within 90 days. In papers before court, parents and teachers described shocking conditions in the four schools with up to five children forced to share a desk, children being taught under trees and teachers unable to move around in their overcrowded classrooms without making learners stand up.

The governing bodies of four heavily overcrowded schools in the Eastern Cape claimed victory in the Mthatha High Court on Tuesday as the court ordered the Eastern Cape Department of Education to provide 65 emergency mobile classrooms to the schools within the next three months. The Department wanted a postponement in the case.

The Legal Resources Centre, arguing on behalf of the parents, said that overcrowded classrooms in Mthatha, Mqanduli, Mount Frere and Engcobo undermined children’s constitutional rights to basic education, a healthy environment, dignity and equality.

Infrastructure norms published for South African schools state that no more than 40 learners should be allocated to a single classroom in South Africa – but in low-fee and non-fee schools in Mthatha, Mqanduli, Mount Frere and Engcobo in the Eastern Cape, school classrooms house more than double that amount of children. Some classes have more than 100 kids fighting for space and up to five having to share a desk made for two.

South African school infrastructure norms were to be phased in over seven years between 2013 and 2020. The parents began their legal action in 2017 when, after four years of the infrastructure programme, no relief was forthcoming for their schools. The Legal Resources Centre in Makhanda took up their case. In November 2018 the Superintendent General of the Eastern Cape Department of Education sent a letter to the parents’ attorney agreeing that urgent intervention was required to solve the overcrowding crisis, and undertook to provide new classrooms to the schools. More than a year later nothing has happened.

Andreus Fudumele, a parent at Atwell Madala Senior Secondary School in Mthatha and a member of the school’s governing body, said their school was a low fee-paying school — he pays R1,200 for each of his two children.

He said the school remains completely reliant on the Department of Education for the provision of classrooms. The school has 1,716 learners, but only 22 classrooms – 16 permanent and six temporary structures. The school once accommodated learners for Grades 10 to 12, but in 2015 the department decided that it should also enrol Grade 8 and Grade 9 learners.

“Temporary classrooms were constructed hastily and are of poor quality,” Fudumele said. He said for the school to restrict class sizes to 40 they would need an additional 22 classrooms. Currently, there are six classes accommodating more than 80 learners. One class accommodates 93 learners.

A teacher at the school, Luzuko Mkona, said in an affidavit before the court that his class was so full that it was impossible for him to move in the class without making learners get up. Ntombifikile Zanqa, another teacher who made an affidavit to support the parents’ case said her class sizes range between 60 to 100 children.

“It is hard if not impossible to manage a class with so many learners,” she stated in her affidavit. “I often cannot tell who the troublemakers are.”

She said that as it was impossible to provide individual attention to so many children she often only discovered that they “have been left behind” when they have written tests or exams.

A Grade 10 learner at the school said teachers can’t mark everybody’s books and often only those who manage to get seats in the front of the class will have their work graded. Another learner said the prefab classes where they are taught are dilapidated and they fear the floors are going to break. The classrooms become very hot and this makes her sleepy and she struggles to concentrate.

Fudumele said the governing body had been writing letters requesting more classrooms since October 2012. They were provided with the names of officials and their phone numbers to follow up, but no classrooms have been forthcoming. 

He said that in 2015 the Department of Education promised to build them a new school and even sent them plans, but nothing came of this promise.

In 2017, the school governing body’s attorney sent a letter of demand to the Department, but this too received no response. Neither did a follow-up letter sent in February 2018.

Enduku Junior Secondary School in Ngcobo needs another 11 classrooms according to papers before court. A member of the school’s governing body, Lungakazi Jiza, said they had 1,367 learners, but only 24 classrooms. Five of these classrooms are in a mud structure built by the community. This school is also required to accept children who have learning difficulties.

She said they have two classes that exceed 80 learners a class and half their classes have more than 60 learners.

“With more than 40 learners in a classroom, it becomes extremely noisy and it is difficult for teachers to maintain discipline,” she said.

In 2017, during a visit by the Education Portfolio Committee of the Eastern Cape Legislature, the school was promised a new building within 18 months. Nothing happened. In November 2019 they were told that they could have three new Grade R classrooms, Jiza said.

In Dudumayo Senior Secondary School, about 25km from Mqanduli, almost every class exceeds 80 learners and four classes have more than 100. Five learners must share a desk.

One of the learners said they had to write on their laps as only 35 of the children in the class could sit at desks. “You can’t always hear the teacher,” she said.

Pakamile Nqineka from the school governing body said classes had inadequate ventilation and learners would not be able to safely evacuate in an emergency.

According to papers before court, the education department ordered that prefab classrooms be moved to Dudumayo Senior Secondary in 2016 from a nearby school. The contractor, however, reported back that the prefab classrooms in question were too dilapidated to be transported. The Department of Education then promised to order new ones, but nothing happened.

Sikhokhele Mdolo serves on the school governing body for Mnceba Senior Secondary School about 40km from Mount Frere. Two of the classes in the school have more than 100 learners and most of the rest have more than 80 children. 

Mdolo said that as a result, the children were taught under the trees.

The school had to add Grade 8 and Grade 9 classes in 2015 due to the department’s rationalisation programme. The department promised temporary structures in 2017, but nothing came of it. The school has an average ratio of 90 children per teacher and needs 24 more classrooms.

According to its plans for bringing the province up to education norms, the Eastern Cape Department of Education has estimated that it will need R11.7-billion — but it says it does not have the budget for this. MC

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