With 154 children in a single class at Dudumayo Senior Secondary School on the outskirts of Mqanduli in the Eastern Cape, teachers are forced to improvise and allow only matrics to go to school during exams.
The rest of the pupils are sent to the junior secondary school next door to allow the Grade 12s enough space to write their finals.
This was one of the schools Nelson Mandela helped build with contributions from the private sector.
However, with 1 275 pupils, it has only 16 classrooms and needs a further 32, but its governing body’s pleas to the provincial education department have fallen on deaf ears.
This year, Dudumayo’s largest class was Grade 11 B2, which had 154 pupils. It’s largest matric class was the 90-strong Grade 12 B1.
The Grade 10 classes are similarly overcrowded, with 112 children in Grade 10 B2.
Despite this, the school’s matric pass rate is well above the provincial average, improving from a 53% pass rate in 2015 to 88% last year.
Nkosi Masiza Dudumayo, chairperson of the school governing body, said the school had been asking the department of education for additional classrooms, teachers’ accommodation, a school hall and a fence since 2015.
They also asked for a school hostel so that scores of pupils from far-flung villages would not have to rent accommodation and live alone and unsupervised. The only thing they received was the fence.
Dudumayo, the chief of Ngcwanguba village, where the school, which was named after his grand-mother, is situated, said overcrowding and a shortage of furniture were their biggest problems.
“For instance, in Grade 11 B2, there are 154 pupils in one class. Where have you ever heard of that – where so many pupils have to share space? How are they supposed to learn? How are teachers even supposed to teach?” he asked.
“When a teacher is in that Grade 11 class, she or he is forced to stand at the door. The teacher cannot even stand in front of pupils and write on the blackboard. There is simply no space to move.”
Things have become so bad that the school asked the Legal Resources Centre for help to force the department to provide them with extra classrooms and furniture.
Class sizes at the school fly in the face of the department’s own minimum norms and standards, which limit class sizes to 40 pupils.
Dudumayo said he worried about the matrics because they were learning under pressure and in poor conditions, and their parents were expecting a lot from them.
When City Press visited the school on Thursday, most pupils were at home studying for exams – even those in grades 10 and 11.
Only a handful of pupils in Grade 11 were there to revise for their geography exams, which they were scheduled to write on Friday.
The school, established in 1995 from private donations, some of which were arranged by Mandela after he retired, is a neat face-brick structure that consists of three blocks of classrooms, an administration block and a science laboratory.
“All the government had to do was provide us with additional classrooms and provide furniture – not build a school from scratch. It did not even do such a small and basic task,” Dudumayo said.
Former principal Nkosivumile Khwezi wrote to the department’s provincial infrastructure office in February last year, begging for at least 32 more classrooms, more toilets, a hostel, teachers accommodation and a school hall.
Grade 11 pupil Liso Mpaphela (16) said she found it difficult to learn.
“It’s not only that we are crowding into one small classroom like bags of potatoes, but we don’t even have places to sit. You find three pupils sharing a chair meant for one person. A desk meant for two people is occupied by four or even five people,” she said.
“When it is hot, you cannot even breathe. You cannot even move around. When you have to go to the toilet, you have to ask for a whole group of people along the way to move, and this disrupts the whole lesson.
"It is really sad that we are allowed by our government to learn under these circumstances. It is really not fair,” she said.
Mpaphela, who wants to become a dentist, says the school is “loved by many because of its good matric pass rate, and because it is a beautiful school when you compare it with other schools in terms of its buildings”.
“But, due to this shortage of classrooms and furniture, it makes it a nightmare to learn here,” she said.
Cameron McConnachie, a lawyer working at the Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstown, said Dudumayo and three other schools – Mthatha’s Attwell Madala High, Ngcobo’s Enduku Junior Secondary and Ntabankulu’s Mnceba Senior Secondary – approached the centre for help, and they were taking the department to court.
McConnachie said the department was fighting the case – having filed notice of intention to defend it – and has to file answering affidavits by next week.
“The conditions in these schools are unacceptable and shocking. The sad thing is that there are many more like this.
"That is why some of the relief we sought was that they must give us a list of all the schools that have classrooms that have more than 50 pupils so that we can see how widespread the problem is,” McConnachie said.
Provincial education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said he could not comment on the matter since it was before court.
“All that I can say at the moment is that our school admission management committees shouldn’t over-admit pupils.
"They are aware that, each and every year, the policy says you admit only 10% of the number of pupils you already have at the school.
"We are not going to win this problem of overcrowding and shortage of furniture as long as people continue to over-admit pupils,” he said.
TALK TO US
Is government doing enough to prevent overcrowding in schools?
SMS us on 35697 using the keyword CROWDED and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50. By participating, you agree to receive occasional marketing material