Classrooms burst at seams

Tafelsig High School principal Ruschda O Shea has welcomed the decision to add two extra classrooms to accommodate Grade 8 pupils who live in the area. She is pictured with Grade 8 pupils.

The ongoing dilemma of large enrolment numbers at overcrowded schools in Mitchell’s Plain is leaving pupils in academic peril and has prompted calls for a platoon system – which involves running separate morning and afternoon classes – that which was in operation in township schools, including Mitchell’s Plain, in the 1980s. However, the WCED said it was not an ideal situation.

At Tafelsig High School, two mobile classrooms to accommodate unplaced pupils in Grade 8 who live in the area, are to be placed at the school. The news has been welcomed by principal Ruschda O’ Shea. “We are now able to accommodate 84 pupils comprising Afrikaans and English classes.”

Despite the much-needed reprieve, Ms O’ Shea said the latest development is putting pressure on the school. “We now need to rearrange classroom timetables and additional resources will be ploughed into ablution facilities and electricity usage.

However, Ms O’ Shea is grateful that her plea for help was heeded by the WCED. “It’s a big community with huge educational needs and one cannot turn a blind eye to these issues,” she said.

The Mitchell’s Plain Education Forum (MPEF) has called on the WCED to arrange afternoon classes to address the high enrolment numbers in the area.

Colleen Horswell of the MPEF said at the start of the 2016 academic year close to 1 000 pupils in the area were not placed at schools.

“This is very challenging for us. Why does the WCED not build more schools? We are sitting with 45 to 50 pupils in some classes which affects the quality of the education they receive. They are just clumping these children together in a classroom,” she said.

Ms Horswell said the country’s education system was in a total mess. “On a provincial and national level we are neglecting our children’s right to quality education. This is a case of quality versus quantity,” she said.

The MPEF was conceptualised in 2010 at an education summit which was held at Glendale High School in Rocklands and chaired by former Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Marius Fransman and former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel.

The WCED launched a campaign on Sunday February 5 to remind parents to enrol their children in school for next year by Friday March 24, this year.

Jessica Shelver, spokeswoman for Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, said the department had to set an early deadline for applications because of the increasing demand for places in schools in the province.

“The deadline applies in particular to children who are entering placement for Grade 1 or Grade 8 in 2018, and children who are changing schools. Parents have to apply before the end of the first term of 2017 for the following year, to enable schools to process applications during the second term. We cannot guarantee immediate placement for those who apply late, nor places at schools of choice for anybody. It is vital that parents apply at several schools, and not just one, as there is no guarantee that their child will be accepted at the one they choose,” she explained.

She said schools started capturing enrolments for 2018 from Monday January 30, on the WCED’s SAMI system. “School admissions opened on Monday February 6 this year, for all public schools and will close on Friday March 24,” she said.

Millicent Merton, spokeswoman for the WCED, said the decision was taken after the MEC hosted a meeting with a delegation of principals on Monday February 13.

When quizzed about how many pupils were left unplaced in Mitchell’s Plain this year, Ms Merton could not provide the Plainsman with an exact breakdown.

She said the mechanisms the WCED was putting in place to ease the shortfall included the deployment of mobile classrooms and the additional allocation of teachers at various schools.

The department did not respond to the Plainsman’s request for comment to the MPEF’s call for afternoon classes to be considered as an interim measure.

Progressive Principal’s Association (PPA) chairperson and principal of Spine Road High School in Rocklands, Riyaadh Najaar, said placement is a huge problem and the slow rate of placement was “unacceptable”. He said the PPA had been battling with the WCED about the issue for the past 15 years.

Mr Najaar, who attended the Monday February 13 meeting, said the department needed to be proactive about the matter as every child had the right to education. He said in January there were close to a
1 000 pupils not placed in schools in Mitchell’s Plain and he was unsure whether they have been placedv yet.

Mr Najaar added that the problem was often in Grade 1 and Grade 8. “We have thousands of parents applying for placement for these grades and often schools are full and cannot accommodate them,” he said.

Mr Najaar said the short-term solution was to have “holding schools” for pupils who were waiting to be placed.

“They will get some form of education while they are waiting for a school. However, these pupils are now at home, roaming the streets with nothing to do. The long-term solution is to build more schools in Mitchell’s Plain, there is an urgent need for it,” he said.

Mr Najaar made an example of his school, which was built for 800 pupils but had 1 340.

“Most of the schools in the area are overcrowded, but our teachers are committed, courageous and are teaching in these conditions,” he said. In 2014 the school became the first school in Mitchell’s Plain to achieve a 100 percent matric pass rate.

“There are classes with more than 45 pupils. The ideal school should have less than 35 pupils in a class, unfortunately this is not the case,” he said.