70 pupils to 1 teacher – Community group pickets over packed classes

2019-01-09 17:38
<p>Approximately 70 learners will be taught in this classroom, which was originally a school hall. (Ashraf Hendricks, <a href="https://www.groundup.org.za/article/over-70-learners-one-classroom-bishop-lavis-school/" target="_blank">GroundUp</a>)</p>

Approximately 70 learners will be taught in this classroom, which was originally a school hall. (Ashraf Hendricks, GroundUp)

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The first day of the school year at Cape Town's Bergville Primary School in Bishop Lavis kicked off with a picket to highlight complaints over teacher shortages and poor safety on Wednesday.

About 50 people held up posters at the school gates in the protest organised by the Bishop Lavis Action Community (Blac). The organisation says schools in affluent areas get more attention and funding.

With 72 children relying on one teacher, the school's principal, Almeen Abrahams, told News24 he was concerned about the quality of education that his young charges would get this year.

An estimated 1.1 million children started school in the province on Wednesday and Abrahams said he was battling to get a bigger slice of the funding pie. 

As it is, children who failed Grade 4 last year and children who were promoted to Grade 4 from Grade 3 add up to 72 for one class. This means the only space big enough to accommodate them is the school hall.

"Quality education can never take place in such circumstances. You get to a point of just crowd controlling," Abrahams said by phone after the picket outside the school's gates. 

'It is very traumatic'

Bishop Lavis lies to the east of Cape Town on the way to Cape Town International Airport.

For Abrahams, the 10 primary school teachers and two Grade R practitioners available are not enough for 419 pupils.

"It is very difficult, it is very traumatic," said Abrahams. "I have written to the department asking for extra help but it falls on deaf ears.

"The action is taken by the community because it is the community's school," he said of the picket. 

He said that in addition to having so few teachers, the school also needs a permanent law enforcement officer as the sound of gunfire around the school is more the norm than the exception.

READ: Former police reservist, teen shot dead in Bishop Lavis

He said since August 2018, at least 17 people had been shot dead near the school.

His pupils form part of the estimated 108 325 Grade 1s and 83 360 Grade 8 pupils starting their academic year, according to figures provided by Western Cape education department MEC Debbie Schäfer.

Schäfer said publishers delivered all textbooks ordered by schools via the department's online textbook ordering system at the end of 2018.

Schools will place top-up orders should they experience unexpected growth in enrollment. 

Suppliers have delivered additional desks, chairs and other items of furniture requested by schools for 2019. 

To accommodate the growth in numbers, the provincial education department also completed the construction of five new schools last year, and another new school is expected to be completed by April. In about 10 days' time, a snap survey will be done at schools to count how many pupils are at each school, given that some parents put their children's names down at more than one school.

Complaint being investigated

But all of this was cold comfort for Abrahams, who said there was only one janitor to clean 20 classes, the toilets, guard the gates and knock the grounds into shape before the first day of school. 

"The man is tired. The other janitor was suspended but that is not my fault," he said. 

Blac activist Victor Altensteadt said the picketers handed a memorandum to department official Wayne Hendricks and gave the department 48 hours to report back with solutions, or else they would intensify their display of discontent. 

Blac's demands include resolving the overcrowding, the introduction of psycho-social services for pupils and teachers traumatised by shootings and crime and security protection for the school.

He said that not paying attention to these issues contributed to hundreds of thousands of pupils not making it to matric.

Schäfer said earlier that the department's own calculations of pupil to teacher ratios at the school did not tally with the 1:70 claim, but the complaint is still being investigated. 

She was speaking during a visit to Forest Village Leadership Academy where the ratio was one teacher to 40 pupils.

Read more on:    debbie schäfer  |  cape town  |  education  |  protests

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