Middelburg parents shut down high school with no water, no toilets and no teachers for 250 pupils
With their school already in a dire situation, with no working toilets, no water in the taps and no teachers for 250 kids, plus a dismal 2022 matric pass rate of 62%, angry parents closed the Middelande Senior Secondary School in Middelburg, Eastern Cape, on Thursday.
With no teachers for about a quarter of their pupils, four children sharing a desk, no water in the school or the hostel’s taps, and no working toilets, the parents of Middelande Senior Secondary School closed the gates of the school on Thursday until the Department of Education intervenes.
According to the minutes of an emergency meeting held on Wednesday, the reason for the closure was that parents feared the safety situation at the school had deteriorated radically, with unsupervised pupils now bringing dangerous weapons to school.
The school was given four extra teachers by the Department of Education in 2022, but after pupil numbers dropped by 50, the four were removed this year.
The teachers who are now being transferred, however, include two who teach the matric class in Afrikaans and geography. Joseph Taai, the geography teacher, is also the deputy principal and is in charge of organising the Grade 12 exams. Seventy-five percent of the matric class is taking geography.
In a heartfelt letter addressed to the department, appealing against his redeployment to Komani, Taai wrote: “I am currently the only Afrikaans Grade 12 Geography Educator in our school with a total of 458 Geography learners (excluding Social Sciences and Tourism) and continually increasing. There are three educators assisting me. One of the three are in a SGB Post and his services will soon not be available anymore. The second educator is seriously ill and has been hospitalised in Bloemfontein.
The school cannot take the risk of leaving five classes unsupervised and learners getting into fights and seriously injuring one another.
“We are a seriously underperforming school and my absence will definitely put our current status under more pressure and [reduce] our learners’ and schools’ opportunity to restore our previous academically healthy status. Adding Geography as an underperforming subject will completely and utterly ruin our school community as a whole.”
He said that the current ratio between teachers and pupils makes their chances of recovering their performance “exceedingly small”.
“He is our school’s pillar of strength,” one of the teachers said on Thursday. “He also has a bakkie and he always tries to bring water to the school,” she added.
Parents step in
At the school governing body (SGB) meeting the parents made it clear that they won’t let him go – no matter what the department says.
Apart from Middelburg the school takes children from as far as Noupoort, Steynsburg, Burgersdorp, Venterstad and Colesberg.
The resolution made by the SGB states that due to the dire shortage of teachers, the situation at the school has become unsafe because “learners are coming to school with dangerous weapons”.
“The school cannot take the risk of leaving five classes unsupervised and learners getting into fights and seriously injuring one another. Learners also cannot be left with educators’ assistants as the safety of learners and educators is the responsibility of the principal and SGB and there are no security guards to assist.”
The matric class is also losing their Afrikaans teacher and the teacher who now teaches consumer studies has no background in the subject.
A letter from the school to the Education Department set out the chaotic state of affairs with teachers being appointed and then made redundant in fewer than six months despite the teacher-pupil ratio being the highest in the region.
“The fact that we are an underperforming school was not even taken into account. This staff shortage is a very big contributing factor to our underperformance,” principal Stanley Mintoor said in his letter to the Department of Education. Only 62% of the matric class passed in 2022.
In a meeting with the provincial portfolio committee on education in February 2023, the SGB raised their concern about Middelande being an underperforming school and losing four teaching posts just after appointing five teachers in August 2022.
The response was that the department should reconsider its decision to remove the four posts, because it does not make sense to appoint five teachers and then remove four posts after three months. The school now has 1,200 pupils which is more than it had at the beginning of 2022 when they granted permission for five teachers to be appointed.
According to the minutes of the latest SGB meeting, an appeal against the removal of the teachers was submitted to the education district in December 2022. They in turn submitted it to the provincial task team and it was declined, without any reasons given.
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The school and hostel have been without water since 2022. The hostel has five water tanks which is not enough to supply all pupils and staff for one full day.
Many pupils eat their only meal for the day at the school, but there is no water to cook. Teachers told Maverick Citizen that children are sent home if they need the bathroom.
There are currently five classes – about 250 pupils – with no teachers.
The minutes of the last SGB meeting also described the dire situation caused by water shortages at the school:
“Water carting is not an option or a permanent solution because the truck does not deliver water every day and the school has no money to buy tanks for the toilets to be supplied with water.”
Malibongwe Mtima from the Eastern Cape Department of Education has not yet responded to a request for comment. It is understood that a representative of the department has arrived at the school to talk to the parents. DM/MC