Forced to learn on a cold floor
Four-year-old Akhulile Mkhovu is a bright little girl whose dream is to one day become a nurse.
However, as the country celebrates 23 years of democracy, she and her Grade R classmates do not even have chairs or desks at Manaleni Primary School in Mount Frere in the Eastern Cape.
When City Press visited the school in Manaleni village last week, Akhulile and 13 of her classmates were kneeling on the floor using cardboard as makeshift mats. They spend their days in a rondavel next to the school because of a shortage of classrooms. They are the youngest at the school and are expected to sit on the cold floor for all of their lessons. Next to the rondavel is a dilapidated dining room that is used by Grade 1 pupils as a classroom.
“I am happy to be at school because I have friends here and we get to play a lot, and we eat during break time,” she says, seemingly oblivious to the harsh environment.
Her teacher, Nokwanda Nonkonyana, says Akhulile is shy and always does her work.
“She is very bright. She does not talk a lot, but you will find that she is the one who is always the first to do what she’s asked to do. Her concentration level is beyond her age. She likes to draw a lot and is a good listener,” says Nonkonyana.
The teacher says it is sad that pupils have to sit on the floor.
Nokuthula Simane, the acting principal at the school, says repeated requests to the Mount Frere district education office and to the provincial department of education for furniture have been fruitless. The school is simply told it is on a waiting list. The few desks and chairs at the school are old and broken.
A City Press team found that the school did not have an administration block, a principal’s office or a staff room. The school has only five classrooms for the 264 pupils in Grade R to Grade 7. The school also has a shortage of toilets, and pupils must share the pit latrines with teachers, who say that the lack of toilet facilities forces some children to go into the bush to relieve themselves.
“Our biggest challenge is the shortage of classrooms. We are forced to combine the grades and teach pupils in a single classroom, which is far from ideal,” Simane says.
Simane, who has been in her post since June last year, says the school also needs four more teachers. She started teaching at the school in 1994.
“Last year, the department promised it would bring furniture, but it did not arrive. It is really sad. It is under these conditions that young children such as Akhulile are expected to rise and conquer. It breaks my heart that these things are still allowed to happen in this country,” she says.
Nyabeni Mlandelwa, who is the chair of the school’s governing body, says: “I have three grandchildren attending the school. We have been knocking on many government doors without success. But we must remain optimistic.”
He expresses concern that some parents are taking their children to urban areas because they believe government has abandoned the school.
“We are only remembered during election time,” he says.
Provincial education spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani says the province is planning to build three extra classrooms at the school, and will provide three additional teachers. He says the classrooms are at the “construction stage”, which is untrue because we saw no building taking place when we visited.
Pulumani says the department conducted a comprehensive audit of furniture needs last year, and says furniture is being delivered to all schools that need it.
“Our districts’ auxiliary services sections have been given added mandates to respond immediately to dire shortages,” says Pulumani.
He adds that the Development Bank of Southern Africa has been given the responsibility of facilitating the provision of adequate sanitation to schools in the province.
COLD COMFORT Akhulile Mkhovu (4) and her classmates have no desks or chairs, so they use pieces of cardboard as mats in an attempt to keep their little bodies warm on the concrete floor