Government’s R8.2 billion school initiative bears fruit

2015-03-22 15:02

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In the middle of double-storey blocks of council flats synonymous with poverty and gangs, battered streets and backyard shacks, sits a gleaming new primary school

Its landscaped courtyards stand like an oasis of progress in a desert of urban decay.

The new building is the home of Tygersig Primary School in Elsie’s River near Bellville, Cape Town.

It has facilities richer schools would covet – ecofriendly features such as rainwater harvesting and natural cooling and warming architectural perspectives, as well as a dance studio, computer centre, library and science laboratory.

The new school building is part of the national department of basic education’s Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (Asidi), an R8.2?billion public-private partnership programme forming one of government’s strategic infrastructure projects under the presidential infrastructure coordinating commission.

Asidi got under way in 2011 with the identification of 510 schools across the country that needed to be replaced or upgraded. Most were in the Eastern Cape, where many rural schools are just mud huts.

The Western Cape, with its many asbestos-clad schools, has the country’s second-highest number of schools that need to be replaced.

Asidi is now starting to bear fruit, and a new school is being opened almost every week. Tygersig Primary is number 98.

Its official opening on Wednesday was cause for celebration.

About 1?000 adults, many of whom were not parents of Tygersig Primary pupils but simply came along to celebrate an improvement in their neighbourhood, took up seats in the spacious new school hall to witness Basic Education Deputy Minister Enver Surty officially open the institution.

The hall not only accommodated the adults, but also the school’s 711 pupils, all neatly turned out in their yellow shirts, shorts and black pinafores.

At their old buildings, about 200m away, they used to have to assemble in a quad and sit on the ground.

“Ons klere was vuil [Our clothes were dirty],” says one pupil.

The children are clearly excited to be inhabiting their new, spacious and light-filled building – a stark contrast to the old school with its peeling paint, sagging asbestos walls, ill-fitting fixtures and amateur murals visible across a short stretch of sandy ground.

“We can feel the change now,” says Grade 7 pupil Chandre Ourson. “I’m proud of the new building. Even the teachers are nicer.”

Large groups of eager children in the corridors speak of how “excited” and “proud” they are of their new school. Many say they wake up looking forward to lessons in their new classrooms.

But just next door, on the other side of the primary school’s fence, is the grey, decrepit graffiti-covered high school – a stark reminder of the lingering reality outside the brand-new classrooms.

The high school is “a real gangster school”, says parent Shamiela Swartz, whose youngest child is in Grade 3. Her two older children attend Ravensmead High, a better high school a few blocks away. But the stark difference between Tygersig and the adjacent high school is disconcerting, and something Tygersig Primary principal Hennie Windvogel does not feel comfortable with.

Though the new building is a sign of progress and upliftment for the neighbourhood, it cannot remain in isolation, says Windvogel. An integrated plan for educational facilities in the area is needed.

“We need to know if [the provincial department] has a plan and, if it has a plan, what is it?” says Windvogel, who has been principal of Tygersig Primary since 1999 and has, say parents, ensured it maintained a good reputation despite the surrounding socioeconomic ills.

Referring to the high school, Surty said he was in conversation with the district director and they had “agreed to prioritise a proper high school”.

If this can be done and a hub of academic excellence in the neighbourhood can be established, says Windvogel, it will help to combat the gangsterism and frequent shootings in the surrounding streets.

Most pupils speaking to City Press illustrate how afraid they are of the frequent bursts of gunfire in their neighbourhood, and say they are scared when walking to and from school. Shots were fired in the neighbourhood while the opening ceremony was in progress, and Windvogel says he had to convince a number of parents to stay and not hurry off to ensure all was well at home.

Until an integrated plan is developed and implemented, the children and their teachers have a safe haven for at least part of the day.

Science and maths teacher Jane Matthee, who has been teaching at Tygersig for 32 years, has been arriving 45 minutes earlier than she needs to because she so looks forward to coming to work now.

“It is so exciting. This is so overwhelmingly clean and neat compared with where we’ve come from,” she says.

“There’s a sense of excitement. The pupils are more vibrant, but also more disciplined. They’re proud of their school.”

The other day, she says, a pupil spilt ink on one of the new desks and immediately tried to clean it up. Before, they would likely have made a half-hearted attempt, at best.

This illustrates what local ward councillor Beverley van Reenen said in her speech – that the physical space a child inhabits has a “profound impact” on his or her development.

With “education being the only thing that gives poor people hope and dignity”, the building of quality facilities forms an essential link in the upliftment of the community, as well as between pupils and teachers.

“Look after it and enjoy it,” she said.

– West Cape News

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