Strike, H1N1 keep pupils at bay

Up to 50 000 chil­dren a day ab­sent from class

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - LEILA SAMODIEN

A CRIP­PLING com­bi­na­tion of the train work­ers’ strike and Novel In­fluenza (H1N1) fears ham­mered West­ern Cape ed­u­ca­tion this week, with up to 50 000 pupils a day ab­sent and thou­sands more turn­ing up for school late.

Some high school prin­ci­pals feared ma­tric­u­lants would not be pre­pared for the pre­lim­i­nary or “mock” ex­ams. Some of the pre­lim­i­nary ex­ams are sched­uled to be­gin next week.

The Wester n Cape was worst hit by the strike, which was called off by unions at a con­fer­ence yes­ter­day.

For the past week, schools whose chil­dren re­lied heav­ily on pub­lic trans­port com­plained that hun­dreds of pupils had ei­ther been late or ab­sent, re­sult­ing in the loss of pre­cious teach­ing time.

Trafal­gar High School prin­ci­pal Nadeem Hen­dricks said that of the 800 chil­dren at his school, only about 300 pitched up on Mon­day and Tues­day, when the Metro­rail strike was at its worst.

Hen­dricks said: “Eighty per­cent of my pupils use the train, so you can imag­ine how badly this has im­pacted on the school.

“I had to spend most of Mon­day on the phone beg­ging par­ents, es­pe­cially those who had grade 12s, to let their chil­dren come to school.”

“First it was swine flu (H1N1), then it was taxis, now it’s the train strike.”

Sea Point High School prin­ci­pal Carder Tre­gonning said that al­most a third of the 396 pupils at his school were ab­sent on Tues­day. A fur­ther 60 to 70 pupils came late, which was “un­heard of ” at Sea Point.

Tre­gonning was also con­cerned about a pos­si­ble taxi strike from Septem­ber 1, which might ham­per the mock ex­ams.

Prin­ci­pal of Spine Road High School in Mitchell’s Plain, Riyadh Na­jaar, said that about 170 of his 1 200 pupils were ab­sent on Mon­day.

Bernard Hlong­wane, princi- pal of Bu­lumko Secondary School in Khayelit­sha, said most of his pupils had found a way to get to school – but about a quar­ter of the 1 600 pupils were about an hour late.

Prin­ci­pal of Cape Town High School, Rochele Fer­reira, said there had been an 80 per­cent at­ten­dance, which was im­pres­sive un­der the cir­cum­stances, but that many kids had come late.

At Westridge High School, also in Mitchells Plain, about 180 of 850 pupils did not turn up on the worst days. And, an av­er­age of nine ma­tric­u­lants a class (there are five classes) had been ab­sent, said prin­ci­pal Bar­bara Na­jaar.

Matthi Theron, the pro­vin­cial di­rec­tor of spe­cialised ed­u­ca­tion sup­port ser­vices, said about 50 000 pupils had been ab­sent dur­ing the peak of the strike this week.

Yes­ter­day, Cosatu and the Fed­er­a­tion of Unions of SA – an af­fil­i­ate of the United Trans­port and Al­lied Trade Union – an­nounced that they had called off the strike. “This strike has shown us as the trade union move­ment that we need to com­mu­ni­cate with the broader com­mu­nity timeously, so they are able to make al­ter­na­tive trans­port ar­range­ments.”

How­ever, a set­tle­ment has not been reached and ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tinue.

PIC­TURE: MATTHEW JOR­DAAN

NO JOY: Com­muters at Bon­te­heuwel aban­don ef­forts to board the few, crammed trains this week.

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