Writing exams while crammed into a box

2016-11-06 06:05
Iqonce High School pupils stand outside a garage they use as a classroom. Picture: Msindisi Fengu

Iqonce High School pupils stand outside a garage they use as a classroom. Picture: Msindisi Fengu

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East London - Under the noses of Eastern Cape education headquarters officials, at least 29 Grade 12 pupils are forced to write their matric exams squashed together in a single garage.

Iqonce High School in King William’s Town is barely 10km from the province’s education head office, but its pupils have lost out on a plan set up to help thousands of Eastern Cape matriculants prepare for exams because the school no longer conducts supplementary tutoring sessions.

Dolosi and her classmates are caught up in a web of incompetence and lack of political will after provincial authorities scuppered Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s plans to take total control of the provincial education department five years ago. The school has received no support.

“I’m the only hope for my family. I’m the only one who has a chance to take them out of poverty. I want to get educated and get a decent job to also help my siblings to be somebody in life,” Dolosi said with great enthusiasm. She has two siblings who look up to her.

Her mother is unemployed and the family lives off her two siblings’ child support grants.

“We survive by social grant money. I don’t have a choice but to pass this year. I don’t know what will happen thereafter, but I’d like to study further and be a land surveyor one day,” she said.

Since she enrolled at the school last year in Grade 11, Dolosi has endured studying in makeshift classrooms and has to duck rats and cockroaches.

These were converted garages, parking lots and dilapidated offices that were turned into classrooms when parents moved their children from the overcrowded Forbes Grant School in Ginsberg to occupy deserted municipal offices in 1998.

Their cries for proper classrooms over the years have fallen on deaf ears. Adding insult to injury, in July, a fire gutted two critical makeshift classrooms, which were used as after-school Ilima tutorial centres.

School principal Xhasumzi Mrwashu said he reported the incident immediately to the district office, which is less than 5km away, but nothing has happened.

“I’m worried about our overall results this year. Ilima helped us in 2014 to reach a 57% pass rate, but since we don’t have these facilities any more, we don’t have [supplementary tutoring] classes.”

Last year, the school’s pass rate dropped to 38%. But Mrwashu was prepared to turn the tide this year and had planned to tighten security, but then the classes burnt down.

Eastern Cape Education MEC Mandla Makupula only responded after last month’s protest march by parents to Premier Phumulo Masualle’s office.

He visited the school last week and again promised temporary classrooms, but they haven’t arrived. Mrwashu says they would have provided some relief and comfort before the matric exams.

This week, City Press found matrics writing their exams in a single garage, while pupils from lower grades were squashed inside another garage and smaller offices.

Mrwashu said the school would be forced to seat pupils from the lower grades in the same classroom during their exams.

School governing body chairperson Mzodumo Mrara said Makupula was more concerned about who among the teaching staff participated in the parents’ march to the premier’s office.

“The office of the premier phoned him and he jumped and threatened teachers, wanting to know why they went to the premier,” he said, adding that parents assured him the march was their own initiative and teachers were only there to provide details should the premier’s office ask for any.

“It’s a pathetic situation we are in. The department keeps on saying this school was not built on government land, but this is municipal property and the municipality is not bothered about the presence of the school on its property,” he said.

Mrara said parents wanted to find a way of providing temporary classrooms, but Makupula insisted the department would provide them.

The Eastern Cape’s class of 2016 already performed poorly during their midyear exams, dropping from a 51% pass rate last year during the same period to 44.9% this year.

As matrics sat for their exams last week, indications were that provincial authorities had done enough to thwart Motshekga’s intervention that had hoped to push the province’s pass rate to 70%. Makupula and the department failed to respond to questions.

Motshekga had hoped to turn the tide by instituting stringent financial controls and fast-tracking infrastructure provision and learning materials to schools.

But her attempts to place the provincial department under administration ended up in a political storm – mainly over its R69.5 billion budget.

An affidavit filed by Eastern Cape director-general Marion Mbina-Mthembu in the Grahamstown High Court in August confirmed the province’s resistance to Motshekga’s intervention.

Mbina-Mthembu detailed the battle between the province and Motshekga and stated that, as the head of the provincial treasury, she refused to hand over her duties to then national intervention team leader Ray Tywakadi.

Mbina-Mthembu filed the affidavit in support of an application by acting education head Sizakele Netshilaphala, who is fighting the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union in court over the allocation of teaching jobs and redeployment of teachers this year.

Broken promises

Over the past five years, senior government officials, including the presidency and Cabinet ministers, have been roped in to sort out challenges in the beleaguered Eastern Cape education department, but the province continues to battle to get the basics right.


  • National government moved to take total control of the Eastern Cape education department with President Jacob Zuma’s support.
  • Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and former Public Service and Administration Minister Richard Baloyi were to spearhead the process.
  • Five provincial MECs beefed up the team as ground soldiers, including then sports, recreation, arts and culture MEC Xoliswa Tom; then planning and finance MEC Phumulo Masualle (currently Eastern Cape premier); then economic development, environmental affairs and tourism MEC Mcebisi Jonas (now deputy finance minister); and then local government and traditional affairs MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane.
  • Zuma visited the province to assess the state of education after Motshekga signed a memorandum of understanding with the province setting out details of an intervention. Pass rate in 2011: 58.1%; pass rate in 2012: 61.6%.


  • Motshekga announced at a media briefing in East London that she would only pull out of the province once it reached a 70% matric pass rate.
  • A political storm soon ensued and Motshekga’s initial plans were watered down with results remaining below her target. The pass rate was 64.9%.


  • Former premier Noxolo Kiviet promises to clean up the mess before the end of 2014.
  • She splashed R500 000 on a nongovernmental initiative – Ilima Revision Camps – as a move to achieve the 70% matric pass rate target set by Motshekga.
  • The province even used churches to assist matric students across 23 districts. The pass rate was 65.4%.


  • Premier Phumulo Masualle allows provincial education authorities to shut down more than 2 000 “unviable” high schools with fewer pupils.
  • Authorities blame poor results for 2015 on these schools, which battled to get teachers because of the pupil-teacher ratio policy that restricts appointment of more teachers.
  • In the past 22 years, the department has had 19 heads and nine MECs.
  • Hundreds of pupils still use mud structures at schools and some are still learning under trees. In some schools, more than 120 pupils are crammed into one classroom.
  • Province announces a master plan to provide teachers and improve teaching and learning.
  • Last year, the province’s matric pass rate was 56.8% – the worst in the country. – Msindisi Fengu
Read more on:    education  |  matric 2016

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