Eastern Cape schools not ready to start the year

Grade 7 learners practising social distancing at Nomsa Maphongwana Primary School in Khayelitsha, Western Cape. Archive photo by Lilita Gcwabe.

Reports by Sadtu regions in the EC add to concerns raised by members of parliament over the state of readiness of schools to re-open in the province.

Many learners from different schools in the Eastern Cape returned to the same unusable toilets, improper infrastructure and shortage of textbooks at the start of the 2021 academic year. This is according to regional reports from the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu).

By the end of the first day, Sadtu’s Eastern Cape (EC) office received reports that in the Chris Hani District West (CHW), only schools in the town of Cofimvaba have proper ablution facilities and that the majority of them have little to no stationery for the learners.

Provincial secretary, Chris Mdingi, says that the delivery of Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM) is a problem across most rural schools in the EC and many of them are starting the year without these resources.

This comes after concerns about the state of readiness of the schools in the province was raised by the parliamentary portfolio committee at the beginning of this month.

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education said they were concerned that schools in the EC were not ready to open and called upon the Department of Education to redouble its efforts to ensure that everything would be in place before the 15th of February, which already marked a two-week delay of the expected opening day.

 “Most of our concerns revolve around the incomplete delivery of LTSMs to schools. The availability of LTSMs is critical in any teaching and learning environment… especially because they have a week until schools reopen,” said chairperson of the committee, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba.

The committee was informed that the department did not complete the delivery of workbook volumes 1 and 2. In addition, the department had only achieved a 68% delivery rate of stationery to schools and just 20.7% of schools had received textbooks.

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According to the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga’s address on the state of readiness for public schools to reopen, the 2021 School Readiness Monitoring (SRM) was conducted between the 27th of January and the 12th of February to verify the safety of the learning environments. Some of the focus areas included the provision of teachers, the provision of learner support materials (LTSMs), and infrastructure delivery, especially water and sanitation.

The reports from the Sadtu regions reveal that schools in Lady Frere received stationery that is inadequate, the exercise books, for example, with blank pages and no writing lines – consequently rendering these resources useless to the progress of a learner. In the Nelson Mandela District, schools similarly reported on a shortage of LTSMs, especially Grade 7 study packs, as well as a shortage of educators in general.

Mdingi says that the failure of the department to complete the delivery of essential materials that seek to benefit public schools is unacceptable: “We also demanded psychosocial support, availability of both screening and screeners and isolation rooms for teachers and learners. This was done through virtual meetings with the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE), where we also unequivocally advocated the issue of ablution facilities, adequate PPEs, and water tanks.”

Rural schools in the Eastern Cape are heavily affected by the non-delivery of learning materials and other services. Archive photo by Mbulelo Sisulu

Head of Equal Education in the Eastern Cape, Athenkosi Sopitshi, said that problems such as dilapidated schools, shortage of classrooms and poor ablution facilities, which still burden the EC education system, shift the targets and deadlines in the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure further and further away.

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“When we surveyed learners in early 2020, most had concerns about the time remaining for teaching and learning since their homes were not accommodative to learning. Over the years, we have seen the government place less importance on education when deciding how to spend its money, and last year, education funding started decreasing year on year,” she said.

Sopitshi says that substantive funding was cut from the budget for basic education to frontline departments: “Lack of funds made meeting and resourcing demands quite difficult. On the other hand, we have also been very critical of the ECDOE’s expenditure and lack of due diligence when it comes to their service providers.”

According to Sopitshi, in his recent address to the media, the Eastern Cape Education MEC, Fundile Gade, mentioned that service providers who delivered substandard PPE to schools would be blacklisted.”We are yet to see this actioned,” she said.

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