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Durban - DESPITE a lack of the bare necessities – classrooms, lighting, flush toilets and even certain textbooks – a rural school near Winterton has an enviable track record: 100 percent matric pass rates for the past five years.
As pupils and teachers at Meadowsweet Combined School were becoming increasingly disillusioned by their appalling learning environment, things are set to change – thanks in part to the actions of a volunteer teacher.
The KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education said it would upgrade the school by building new classrooms, administration buildings as well as a computer laboratory and media centre.
Department head Dr NkosiNathi Sishi confirmed on Monday that although the school had been on a waiting list for the Upgrades and Additions Programme for years, work would start in May.
“We’ve known about the school for a while. We know it has been facing challenges, and funds are available (now) to upgrade the school,” he said.
The department will build 17 new standard classrooms, two administration blocks, four multipurpose rooms (for visual arts, a laboratory and consumer studies) and a media centre, and provide fencing, 27 parking bays and ablution facilities.
Anne Immelman, a retired maths teacher who volunteers at the school, had recently called for the intervention of education authorities.
“The school has the most dedicated staff and an amazing principal, and the children are so well behaved.
“They have achieved a 100 percent matric pass rate for the past five years. However, the infrastructure is appalling,” she told the Daily News before hearing of the upgrade plans.
The school, situated about 25km outside Winterton on the R600, has about 500 pupils from Grade R to matric. Already in a state of disrepair, it suffered further damage during recent storms, decreasing the usage of an already insufficient number of classrooms.
Immelman said the school had broken walls and windows, pit toilets, and no lighting in some of the classrooms.
“The children laughed when I went to switch on lights the first time I taught there. Some days it’s pitch dark,” she said.
“When there are heavy rains, as there have been, the children have to get dropped off on the main road and walk through mud to get to school.”
Immelman said there were only long-drop toilets, with one communal tap where people could wash their hands.
Yet despite these overwhelming odds, there was no slipping of discipline.
“The pupils are fantastic. Some days I have one class of 60 pupils and you can hear a pin drop.”
There is one cleaner at the school so, to assist, between 2pm and 2.30pm every day, the children get involved in cleaning and picking up rubbish.
Immelman said the school had only eight maths textbooks – which had been donated – for one class.
“The staff do their best but they’re getting disillusioned.”
A source at the school said attempts had been made over the past decade to obtain some departmental intervention.
“We have no administration block, no staffroom, a shortage of classrooms and no fencing. It’s an old building, built by a farmer, but there have not been any upgrades.”
He said that despite the school offering subjects such as visual arts and computer applications technology, there were no resources and only 10 functioning computers.
“There are more than 60 children in a class; one class has 88 children,” the school official said.
“Grades 10 to 12 attend Saturday classes, after-hours classes and holiday school. The teachers volunteer their time for this. The school is in a rural location, not near shops and distractions, so when teachers and learners are here, teaching and learning happens.”