Where homework is a crime

2014-08-10 15:00

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Modise* and Thabiso* nod as Lerato* takes them through a complex maths equation. They all look gloomy.

“Without any kind of guidance and supervision, we cannot be completely certain we’re on the right track. We could be wrong, but we don’t have any choice,” Modise says.

The three are in their final year at Dibotswa Secondary School in Dithakong village near Kuruman in the Northern Cape. Their maths teacher lives nearby – it’s a small village – but they don’t dare walk to his house and ask for help.

“He has been threatened, and urged us not to come to his house to seek assistance with our studies because he would be attacked. We continue to suffer when help is just within walking distance. This is very sad for us,” Lerato sighs.

Dibotswa is one of 54 schools in the Joe Morolong municipality that has been shut down by furious residents.

The residents, spread across a number of villages, are demanding that more than 130km of crisscrossing gravel roads be tarred.

It’s neither a new demand nor a new tactic. In 2012, schools in the area were shut down for almost four months and untarred roads were one of protesters’ major complaints.

About 16?450 pupils haven’t been in class for two months now – 33 primary schools, 13 middle schools and eight high schools are closed. The department of education says that 469 matrics are among those losing out. Their crucial preliminary exams are due to start in less than a month, and then come their final exams in less than three months’ time.

Modise believes the protesters are holding schools to ransom as a way of putting pressure on the government. Their only other option, he says, would have been to close a clinic.

The trio says the protesters are doing the right thing, but it’s clear they are worried. Pupils who choose to fend for themselves by studying at home, alone or in groups, attract unwanted attention from their neighbours.

Teachers have reportedly been threatened with violence if they help their pupils. Lerato’s mother has been told by protesters that they know studying is happening in her house – and they have told her to stop the trio’s revision sessions.

A high school principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some of his staff were holding secret classes. He would not say where – because then those venues will be targeted.

“These people don’t want learning to take place at all, and it would be very dangerous if they found out that learning and teaching was taking place somewhere.

“Remember, a pupil’s house was burnt somewhere in 2012 because he had attended a study camp that was opposed by the community. Some schools had structures burnt for the same reasons,” the principal said.

“As part of the community, we fully support the cause, but we think the decision to compromise schooling is wrong. We expected our community, who are our [pupils’] parents, to think of something else if they were to put pressure on the government to give us a better road.

“We are dealing here with people who do not really have their children’s interests at heart. There is no way we will be able to reverse the damage and rebuild these children’s future after a road has been delivered.”

Those pupils who haven’t joined study groups are now working on farms across the province to earn a living. Teachers in the villages told City Press they were worried many wouldn’t return to school, just as happened after the protests in 2012.

Modise, Lerato and Thabiso intend to go back to school and finish their matric year. They are far angrier with the government than they are with their neighbours.

“We understand promises were made by government to tar the road in 2012 and now, two years later, nothing has happened. The government must deliver on its promise and not allow us to be kept away from school,” Thabiso said.

The Northern Cape government said last week that tender processes were “under way” to start tarring portions of the contested roads. That’s too vague for the trio trying to wrap their heads around maths problems.

“I want to say to the government: ‘Please give them what they want. Give us the road so that we can get back to school,’” Lerato said.

“Schooling is being held to ransom, but we don’t see the government showing any interest to come down to the people and show that they care. If they really cared, they will make funds available to help us with extra lessons.”

The department of education says it has no money for study camps, but it’s come up with an “intervention plan” that will kick in when the schools reopen.

Spokesperson Sidney Stander said all schools would be expected to draw up a recovery plan and that the school day would be increased by an hour. The department would also start Saturday classes, said Stander.

“There will be cluster meetings for teachers to guide them on curriculum coverage. Intensified on-site support will be carried out to monitor and support teachers on curriculum coverage, and provide pupils with study skills and examination tips,” Stander added.

The problem is, nobody knows when the schools will reopen. And Stander adds an ominous warning: if the protests don’t end soon and classes don’t restart, the department will be forced to deregister matrics.

*Not their real names

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