School shortage is department’s fault – report

Pretoria - A new report by the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Child Law reveals how the Gauteng education department failed to ensure that there would be enough schools to accommodate the province’s growing number of pupils.

Department spokesperson Oupa Bodibe said on Saturday that 23 000 pupils, who had not been allocated schools, were accommodated a few days ago following Monday’s announcement that 58 000 pupils had not been placed.

Growing demand

Bodibe said the department was still looking to place more than 35 000 pupils.

“The number could be reduced over the weekend as we are trying to consolidate and verify the statistics”, he said.

“We want to make sure that by Friday we finish all online applications. We will not be able to place the rest of the pupils by the end of January.”

Bodibe added that the province did not have enough schools for the growing demand “and many parents waited until this year to apply”.

But Professor Ann Skelton, who heads up the Centre for Child Law, doubts that Gauteng complied with its 2009 promise to the Constitutional Court to spend R1.7 billion – or 40% of its annual budget – on building new schools.

The centre has compiled a report, titled Budgets and Bricks: Progress with School Infrastructure Following the Rivonia Primary School Case, to track the department’s compliance with its promises.

The report shows that Gauteng only complied with this promise in the 2011/12 financial year.

By 2014, there was already a backlog of 160 schools and 1 500 classrooms at existing schools in Gauteng. There was also a shortage of 726 toilets and almost 500 libraries.

Currently, there are 2 083 schools in Gauteng. Only about 20 schools have been built since 2014, but 23 others have been closed.

Carmen Abdoll, who compiled the report, said: “The department itself admits that almost 55 000 pupils have to be taught in overcrowded classrooms because they cannot build schools and classrooms on time”.

According to a snap survey by the department of basic education, there were almost 2 million pupils in Gauteng schools in 2015 – 300 000 more than in 2009.

Operational centres

In the Western Cape, pupil numbers increased from almost 950 000 to just more than 1 million in 2015. Both provinces saw the highest growth in pupil numbers in the country.

Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for the Western Cape education department, said: “The Western Cape department of education has built 98 schools since 2009 and has made mobile classrooms available for the influx of pupils to the Western Cape”.

She said 230 000 pupils had come to the Western Cape since 2009 – 82% of whom hailed from the Eastern Cape.

Shelver said the provincial department would need almost R1.5 billion a year to make up the shortfall. “But we won’t be able to build schools that fast anyway”.

Bodibe said about 6 000 pupils had walked into schools last week seeking placement, but placements were being dealt with at 62 operational centres across the province.

He cited problems with parents who refused to accept placement at certain schools as they were concerned about the quality of education offered there, while others preferred their children to attend the schools that their older siblings attended. He said this hampered progress with placements.

Bodibe said the department’s budget was stretched as it needed to buy additional furniture, textbooks and stationery. It also had problems determining the language choices of pupils.

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