Is this SA’s worst school?

2012-03-24 14:53

In a rat-infested garage and a series of dilapidated wooden carports, 237 high school pupils experience first-hand just how the Eastern Cape’s education system is falling apart.

The garage and carports serve as classrooms at Qonce High School, an institution situated less than 10km from the provincial education department’s headquarters.

Qonce High School, on the border of King William’s Town and Ginsberg township, has operated for 15 years from these makeshift premises.

In the same street are two taverns and a nightclub, and teachers struggle to instil discipline – the taverns are so close that alcohol is easy to get.

Pupils say they are embarrassed to be seen in Qonce uniforms because pupils from other schools mock them.

Grade 11 pupil Betty Mesakhe (16) said: “We don’t feel good walking in town in this uniform. Children from other schools make fun of us.”

Gcobisa Makeleni (18), also in Grade 11, said: “Others call us Yizo Yizo (a reference to the SABC drama series) because of the drugs. If I had a choice I would move.”

Last year, the school registered a 9% matric pass rate. The previous year, only 17% of matrics passed their final exams.

The five buildings in which the pupils are taught are exposed to the elements.

Agriculture teacher Khayalethu Dyakalashe says rain and extreme weather conditions often stop classes.

“We feel for the kids, especially in winter, because as a teacher – having been in class for only a few minutes – you feel the cold to your bone marrow,” says Dyakalashe.

The school’s main building, which used to operate as a rent office, is the administration block. There are also three classrooms in this building. They are as run-down as the garage and converted carports.

The last time the school received new desks was in 2005, principal Xasumzi Mrhwashu told City Press.

The only teaching materials are blackboards and chalk.

There is a single science kit. Physical Science teacher Nombulelo Ntwanambi keeps it for use across all classes.

Mrhwashu is particularly worried by Education MEC Mandla Makupula’s statement this week that the province’s school furniture budget has been cut from R60 million to R20 million.

The principal says the school can “only pray” the slashed furniture budget will not affect it. “We need new desks badly.”

Makupula dropped another bombshell this week: his department will not be able to spend a third of its R1.4 billion infrastructure budget – about R500 million – this financial year.

The provincial department of education was placed under administration by the national government last year.

Education in the province is a political hot potato. Western Cape Premier Helen Zille caused a furore this week when she described pupils who moved from the Eastern Cape to her province for better schooling as “education refugees”.

But amid the politics, pupils and teachers at Qonce struggle through each day. Other facilities at the school are as dreadful as the classrooms: there are two toilets; one for girls and one for boys. This is far below the national building regulations, which require that at most 30 people should share one toilet.

“It is difficult to motivate staff because the situation had been like this since the department brought us here in 1997,” Mrhwashu said.

“We’ve had countless infrastructure meetings and are number one on the priority list, but nothing comes despite the fact that we’ve had an identified site (to move to) since 2010.”

Eastern Cape Education Department head Modidima Mannya said he was not aware of the school’s “challenges”. He promised to investigate the situation at Qonce High.

Departmental spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said the department was only now reconciling areas of priority for schools in the province.

“The department’s preoccupation has been with mud structures and the rural areas, but the reality is some of our schools in the urban areas require major reconstruction.” 

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