Falling through the cracks
Parents search desperately for places at school for their kids
The heartbreaking stories of unregistered pupils in the Bay desperately trying to find places in the new year were encapsulated by a five-year-old who asked, “Mama, where are we going? School is the other way.”
Busisa Ntlabati, 5, struggled to come to grips with the thought of not attending his first year of “big school” when he and his mother, Busisiwe Ngqungwana-Ntlabati, started their walk to the education district office on Wednesday after being turned away at Malabar Primary School due to space constraints.
Fortunately, after a tense 24-hour wait, district education officials instructed the school to accept Busisa into grade R, because his mother had applied in early 2018.
Hundreds of other Bay pupils have not been so lucky.
Parents queued with their children for hours outside schools and the department of education’s district offices this week, desperate for placement.
Department superintendent-general Themba Kojana urged all parents unable to find places to report to the district office.
However, parents have described an unorganised and dysfunctional registration system, leading to more headaches rather than relief.
Several calls, text and WhatsApp messages went unanswered on Thursday by department of education spokespersons Malibongwe Mtima and Loyiso Pulumani and Nelson Mandela Bay district director Ernest Gorgonzola.
The trio failed to respond to questions regarding the number of unregistered pupils, the percentage of unregistered children who have now been placed and if Bay schools were able to host additional pupils.
Principals have described the situation as a recurring crisis, with schools expected to make places available in already overcrowded classrooms.
They spoke of hundreds of parents and pupils arriving at schools as early as Monday, begging for places – an observation confirmed by The Herald, which visited 16 Bay schools this week.
Among the disgruntled and somewhat defeated parents is Kwazakhele resident Khanyisawa Fusa, 38, who, despite applying to four high schools early in 2018, is yet to find a place for her grade 8 son in 2019.
“Within two weeks of applications being opened I applied at Victoria Park, Alexander Road, Pearson and Muir College. All of them rejected me relatively early last year.
“When I inquired as to why seeing as I work in the Walmer area, I was told to go to the department district office.
“After filling in the forms last year I returned on Tuesday where an official from the office said they misplaced the form and I should return on Wednesday. Only to find the form I had filled in was never handed over to any of the schools.
“This apparently is the reason my son never made it onto any waiting lists of the department and there was no record of him looking for a school.
“So he is at home now. I don’t know what to do because by now all of the schools are full.”
Walmer High School principal Lunga Dyani said he was forced to lock the school gates on Wednesday and Thursday as hundreds of parents and pupils flooded the school’s entrance hoping to find a spot.
“We have about 1,460 pupils already. Of [these] we registered about 400 new grade 8s.
“We are sitting with average class sizes of about 50. We simply cannot take any more kids, otherwise we will affect the quality of education,” he said.
The school achieved a 75.7% pass rate in 2018, up from 72.7% in 2017, which Dyani said contributed to the increased number of parents and pupils wanting to be accommodated at the school.
“Every year we are stuck with the same situation. And this while we are still trying to compensate for the six teachers we are short.
“And surprisingly these unregistered pupils are from everywhere, including northern areas, townships on the other side of the city, even a former model C school, which speaks to the severity of the situation.”
He said he was awaiting the outcome of the department’s rationalisation process to make available the necessary teachers in order to possibly accommodate more pupils, but this was yet to happen.
This entails the absorption of pupils and teachers at schools with low pupil numbers into bigger schools in the vicinity.
A teacher at Gamble Street High School in Uitenhage, who asked not be named, said they had been overwhelmed this week by parents and pupils – particularly from KwaNobuhle – desperately trying to place their children.
The school also averages about 50 pupils a class.
Athenkosi Mali, one of the parents queuing outside Gamble Street on Wednesday, said: “Most of us here applied last year already but we are being told there is no space now.
“Where are our children
supposed to go aside from Uitenhage High School? This is the only English mothertongue school in Uitenhage.
“We can’t afford the Muirs and Riebeeks of Uitenhage.
“If our children don’t get in here, they won’t attend school or they will be sent to an Afrikaans school where they won’t understand anything, will drop out and be lost to the streets.”
Speaking on Wednesday, Mtima said pupil numbers were decreasing each year in township areas and this negatively affected other schools with the prescribed teacher-learner ratio of 1:36.
Northern Areas Education Forum secretary Richard Draai said the capacity issue of schools in the northern areas and townships exacerbated the annual problem.
“Every year the problem is getting worse as the city continues to build new houses in the townships and northern areas with no provision for health or education. And the migration of pupils is on the increase as population numbers spike,” Draai said. “The township parents, like any parent, want to give their kids the best and send them to school in the northern areas, but the kids from the area have first preference and fill up the few English classes, forcing the township kids into Afrikaans classes where they are lost and eventually drop out.”
The department’s rationalisation process is also compounding the problem in three township schools where confusion reigns.
Thubelihle Senior Secondary School and Sophakama Senior Secondary School, both in New Brighton, and Thamsanqa High School in Kwazakhele, have been undergoing rationalisation processes since early in 2018.
Mtima confirmed that a merger between Thubelihle and Sophakama would take place.
“The schools are no longer being rationalised, but rather they are merging.
“This means there won’t be a school that is stronger than the other because they have an equal status. Sophakama has registered 200 learners this year and Thubelihle has 135.
“The host of the merger will be Thubelihle because it has sufficient infrastructure and the merged schools would be referred to as a centre.”
However, Sophakama Senior Secondary School acting principal Nokuthembela Mavuso had a contrary view, saying Thubelihle should be absorbed.
“We have the numbers. I cannot say until Friday exactly how many learners we have registered in total, however we have exceeded the minimum requirement of 200 learners.”
Thubelihle principal Mandla Toba declined to comment regarding the merger.
Speaking about Thamsanqa High School, Mtima said officials were still rationalising the school.
However, the process had been afforded more time “as it [Thamsanqa High] has proven to have potential”, having increased the matric pass rate from 4.3% in 2017 to 36.4% in 2018.
BAD NEWS: A despondent Busisa Ntlabati, 5, is consoled by his mother Busisiwe Ngqungwana-Ntlabati after initially being told there was no space for him at Malabar Primary School. But his luck changed on Thursday
NEEDING PLACES: Uitenhage residents queue outside Gamble Street High School this week in the hope that it will be able to accommodate their children in the 2019 academic year
FADING HOPES: The department of education district offices in Sidwell are flooded with scores of parents and pupils desperately in search of a space at Bay schools