Forced to learn on a cold floor

CityPress - - News - LUBABALO NGCUKANA lubabalo.ngcukana@city­press.co.za

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.

PHOTO: LUBABALO NGCUKANA

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

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