Education meltdown across Eastern Cape

2012-03-17 16:39

The Eastern Cape’s schools and universities are rapidly headed for a meltdown.

In a week during which the National Council of Provinces’ select committee on education visited the province, trouble flared up at several university campuses and in the province’s education department.

Last March, President Jacob Zuma announced that the national cabinet was intervening in the department under section 100(1)(b) of the Constitution.

This move allowed it to intervene in the running of the department in keys areas, like budget, planning and infrastructure.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga was appointed as the head of the intervention team tasked with improving the department’s performance.

But last week the Eastern Cape education department’s head, Modidima Mannya, openly criticised the intervention.

Mannya told the select committee, chaired by Wendy Makgate, that the intervention caused his department to receive a disclaimer from the auditor-general.

And the chairperson of the province’s portfolio committee on education, Mzoleli Mrara, pleaded with Makgate and her team to help him figure out his committee’s role in the intervention.

Mrara claimed his committee had received only informal briefings from education MEC Mandla Makupula since the intervention started.

Makupula, however, tried to play down concerns, saying all was well with the intervention at a political level.

While the committee was in the province, pupils at Menziwa Secondary School in Bityi torched their school.

The school was destroyed by a tornado in 2010 and another storm in 2011. What remained was a rundown wooden structure riddled with holes.

Pupils were reportedly unhappy that only prefabricated classrooms would be built by the department, and chased contractors away on Tuesday before setting fire to the building.

Fifteen pupils appeared in court on Thursday, charged with arson and public violence. They were released on a warning and are due back in court in May.

Also last week, revealing deep faultlines in the province’s tertiary institutions:

» Classes at Fort Hare University’s East London campus were halted because of a student strike. Students there are unhappy because the university is looking at how it spends National Student Financial Aid Scheme funding allocated to it;

» Walter Sisulu University’s administrators revealed that once again not all staff members were paid their salaries this month;

» Students and staff at Walter Sisulu accused administrator Professor Lourens van Staden’s team of not consulting them on key decisions, like a hike in fees of up to 115% in some residences.

Meanwhile, a non-governmental organisation, Save our Schools, has applied to the Bhisho High Court to ask it to determine whether the intervention in schools has been properly and completely implemented.

Earlier this year, work at the province’s primary and high schools ground to a halt during a go-slow by members of the SA Democratic Teachers Union.

For weeks, no teaching happened in schools – a huge setback in the province whose matrics performed the worst during last year’s final exams.

Despite numerous crises and clashes this week, Makgate said she and her committee were satisfied that the intervention was working.

“As the select committee, for now we are happy with the specific issues that we came here to look at,” Makgate said.

“These are the issues which made the province’s department undergo intervention. Some of these were learner transport, school nutrition, and learner teacher support materials, and so far the report we’re getting is that there is progress,” she said.

During the committee’s three-day visit, which ended on Thursday, it met with the provincial department to get a progress report on the intervention, and also revisited Mzontsundu and Mgcawezulu secondary schools in the King Williams Town area.

Makgate said the committee was completely satisfied with what they saw at Mzontsundu.

But she said the province’s failure to implement promises made during the committee’s previous visit to Mgcawezulu had caused the school to drop its matric pass rate from 60% to 30% last year.

The committee spent Thursday at Walter Sisulu University’s Potsdam campus in East London.

They inspected residences there and were briefed on the university’s turnaround strategy. Makgate urged students, staff and administrators to work better together by communicating properly.

“At least we are very positive, and we know the challenges that exist are challenges we can also deal with,” she said.

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