Exclusive – Back to Bantu education?

2013-01-27 10:01

Day-to-day scenes at one troubled school in Eastern Cape indicate scale of problem

It’s hard to see a future for Nontembeko Kwaziwa and the rest of her class – all 153 of them.

The pupils of Meyisi Senior Secondary School in Flagstaff, Eastern Cape, like Grade 10B’s Nontembeko, have new buildings, but very few teachers.

This is because of a critical shortages of teachers in the Eastern Cape and the provincial education department’s refusal to extend the contracts of temporary teachers. This leaves the school of 800 pupils with just nine permanent and two temporary teachers.

They need at least 11 more.

At 8.20am on a blistering hot Thursday, all of Grade 10B’s 153 pupils are crammed into a single classroom. The noise is deafening and there is no sign of a teacher.

The subject on the timetable is isiXhosa, but there is no teacher for this subject a week after schools opened in the province with the country’s lowest matric pass rate, 61.6%.

The clock ticks on. At 8.35am there is still no teacher in sight and some pupils sell sweets or play cards while others sleep.

Nontembeko (17) looks sad when asked about her future: “There is no future for us here. If we were rich at home I would look for a better school.”

Thanks to a staff meeting scheduled for 1.30pm, all classes are cut from 55 minutes to 45. It turns out it doesn’t matter.

At 9am, there is still no teacher. When asked why, a staff member, who speaks on condition of anonymity out of fear of victimisation, says this class doesn’t have a maths teacher either.

Again, 45 minutes pass and nobody in 10B has learned a thing. Geography is next and another 45 minutes go to waste without a teacher.

It is only at 10.30am that a history teacher makes an appearance.

Sometimes 10B is divided into two classes to try to manage it better. This means the same lesson taught twice, overworked teachers and low staff morale.

“The teachers here are as frustrated as the learners. We are working under dire conditions,” says another teacher.

Back in 10B, it’s now English at 11.45am and the heat is unbearable. Pupils use paper and book covers as makeshift fans.

For 10 minutes, the English teacher pleads with them to settle down, without success.

The classroom is in uproar and the teacher has lost her grip. About 10 pupils are sleeping. Some chew gum. Others look the other way. The rest chat, disregarding the teacher completely.

As the teacher tries to continue, more fall asleep. Others shine their shoes.

Asked why he slept in class, Aphiwe Mnaba (18) says: “I don’t see any point in listening to the teacher. I am sitting here at the back and I can’t hear a word the teacher says.”

The English teacher leaves at 12:30pm. It was the last lesson for the day.

The teachers say they are doing their best. Another says the situation is so bad that they focus on pupils with potential and leave the others to fail.

“Sihamba nabahambayo (we move with those who are moving).”

In Grade 10C, 82 pupils share three desks.

In Grade 11A, 87 pupils sit on top of each other thanks to a shortage of chairs. Groups of three pupils share one textbook in life science class.

In 11B, 106 pupils pack a class meant for 40. There are only 35 desks. Three pupils share two chairs and one textbook. All the school’s desks and chairs are old and broken.

In Grade 12A, there are 42 single desks shared between 53 pupils.

The only good thing about the school is the new set of classrooms built in 2001.

The school has no library, science laboratory, landline telephone, or fax machine. Its single computer is shared between the teachers.

The boys’ toilets are filthy and the smell unbearable. Cigarette and dagga-joint butts lie on the floor.

Only 36 pupils use scholar transport and are overloaded in a 22-seater bus. The rest walk the seven kilometres to school.

School governing body member Siphiwo Bhayi says there is no hope for his children. Their numerous attempts to bring their plight to the department have fallen on deaf ears.

“I have two children in this school, in Grades 10 and 11. The one in Grade 11 has failed her class twice. She never failed in her life before, it only happened in this school. What does that tell you?” he says.

The school obtained a 58.8% pass rate last year.

Xolani Zandile (20) president of the school’s representative council of learners said: “We need teachers and learning facilities such as libraries and computers and laboratories. We spend time fighting over desks because we have nothing better to do.”

Doron Isaacs, deputy secretary general for child-rights NGO Equal Education, said the school proved that the department of education did not meet its own norms and standards of education.

A draft of basic norms and standards for schools, published by the department on January 9 for comment, was “shallow and unbinding”.

It only stipulates that schools must have “educational spaces”, “sanitation” and “energy”.

But it fails to give details on critical issues such as how many toilets must be provided per number of children or how many pupils should occupy one classroom.

Isaacs said the published draft failed to address problems with school infrastructure and did not comply with the law or the Constitution, which “gives every child a right to equal and decent education”, said Isaacs.

Last week, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe visited nearby Lutshaya Senior Secondary which is 15 teachers short, and promised to present its problems to Cabinet.

Provincial education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said the department had recently received reports from district offices where schools had the same problems.

“We have instructed our human resources department and officials to do an audit of schools with the most serious cases of teacher shortages, with maths and science being prioritised,” he said.

Pulumani said the situation was worsened by 6 700 excess teachers at other schools.

“We need to move these teachers to where they are needed,” he said.

He said at the moment more than 800 teachers across the province have taken incapacity leave, which often lasts for months, and even years, on full pay.

They were working, he said, on the teacher-shortage problem and had rehired more than 1 700 temporary teachers.

As for classrooms, Pulumani urged schools like Meyisi to be patient, promising that infrastructure would “soon” be provided.

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