Fall­ing through the cracks

Par­ents search des­per­ately for places at school for their kids

The Herald (South Africa) - - Front Page - Tre­maine van Aardt and Zizhonke May [email protected]­soblack­star.co.za

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.

Pictures: TRE­MAINE VAN AARDT

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

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