Struggling Cape Town school won’t let lockdown cause them to close their doors

Sunnyside Primary School in Athlone. (Photo: Supplied)
Sunnyside Primary School in Athlone. (Photo: Supplied)

The last few months have been tough on the education sector.

Schools were one of the first institutions to shut down even before the nationwide lockdown was announced and soon all classes turned digital.

As the economic repercussions of lockdown led to job losses and pay cuts, many parents found themselves battling to pay school fees.

The effects have been dire. But one school refuses to go down without a fight.

Educators and parents of Sunnyside Primary School in Athlone, Cape Town have rallied together to start a Back A Buddy page to raise money to save the school. On the page people can donate money to assist the school.

They closed their doors shortly after the national state of disaster was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March and ever since then the school has been struggling to keep afloat.

“Many parents either took a salary cut or lost their jobs because of Covid-19 and are unable to pay school fees,” explains Chantal Bredenkamp, a teacher at the school.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga vowed provinces would look into the matter to find “an amicable but implementable solution” but Sunnyside wasn’t going to wait around until that solution came.

Afterall, the school was used to finding ways to make ends meet. They would usually organize fundraisers such as hosting a concert to raise money to cover their expenses.

Naturally, the lockdown regulations prohibited any gatherings from happening and the result has been a lack in funds to pay teachers employed by the school governing body (SGB).

“The reality is, if we can’t afford to pay those teachers, they’ll eventually have to be let go,” Tiffany Miller, another teacher at the school says.

“This means our class sizes will increase drastically. Having 50-60 kids in a class. . . it’s unteachable. It affects the quality of education.”

There are currently 780 kids enrolled at the school and they are usually divided in classes of 35.

Sunnyside reopened to Grade 7 learners on 8 June and Chantal says each of the nine teachers employed by the governing body showed up for work despite not receiving a salary the previous month.

“It’s difficult for all of us but the SGB teachers are feeling it the most,” Chantal, who’s employed by the Department of Education, says.

“Their jobs are at risk; they’re taking salary cuts, but they’re still here. They are very passionate about their kids.

“They still work from 7am to 3pm every day. Even after hours, our phones are never off because parents message us every day.”

Tiffany says they’ve been using WhatsApp to communicate with parents and send class work to the learners. Teachers have also explained work through video clips and voice notes. But a lack of resources has made this difficult.

“We have kids coming from communities such as Nyanga, Langa and Delft. Unfortunately they do struggle with Wi-Fi and even data sometimes. Their parents have been retrenched and can’t afford it.”

Chantal Bredenkamp and Tiffany Miller
Chantal Bredenkamp and Tiffany Miller. (Photo: Supplied)

Tiffany adds that in most households the parent’s cell phone is the only digital medium available. Yet they’ve managed to make do with the little available to them.

The campaign has been running smoothly because of the manpower and both teachers agree that their hope is renewed when they look at their colleagues.

“Their tenacity is inspiring,” says Chantal.

“Like on this campaign, everyone came together. It’s just pure teamwork. I’ve taught at different schools, and it’s very seldom that you come across this type of camaraderie.”