'Our schools no longer have the problem of drop-outs, but of forced-outs'

Westbank secondary school protest. Picture: Supplied

Westbank secondary school protest. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 18, 2022


Cape Town - Several schools in the Western Cape are so overcrowded that learners are being squeezed out, never to return.

The situation has forced learners and parents to protest against the overcrowded classes in different areas this week.

Among those were Wesbank and Ilingelethu secondary schools in Malmesbury and Ceres Secondary School, as they were affected by the massive overcrowding, and now other schools with similar issues were threatening to join the protest.

Community leader Reverend Christopher Maans, from Malmesbury, said that at the Wesbank and Ilingelethu secondary schools some learners had to sit on the floor while up to three pupils squeezed into a seat at one desk, and there was also a shortage of teachers.

“Our schools no longer have the problem of drop-outs, but the problem of forced-outs, where our children are forced not to come back to school, because of overcrowding,” Maans said.

Western Cape Education Department (WCED) spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the department was aware of the protest and had engaged with the school.

Hammond said the subject combinations in geography and tourism had resulted in class sizes in those subjects being high.

“We are engaging with the school to determine if it’s a timetable issue or whether more posts or infrastructure is required,” Hammond said.

She said there were 40 classrooms and specialist rooms including the school library, and there were 1617 registered learners and 40 teachers, including the principal.

Learners sitting on the floor. Picture Supplied

Vanessa le Roux, founder of Parents for Equal Education SA (Peesa), said Ceres Secondary School faced the same situation and that the WCED said it was investigating.

“However, those three schools were not isolated cases, this is what is happening across the province in poor communities,” Le Roux said.

Hammond said the WCED was aware of the shortage of classrooms at Ceres. She said there were 1 727 registered learners, and 40 classrooms and specialist rooms including the school library.

“There are enough teachers. However, there is a need for additional classrooms as a result of an increase in learner numbers.”

She said a report on the school’s specific needs was submitted for consideration.

“The WCED is engaging with all schools in the province. Schools have and are submitting requests for additional teachers and mobiles, which will be considered based on demand,” Hammond said, adding that the WCED could not grant additional resources on request but had to determine the needs of all schools in the province first to see where the greatest demand was.

ANC provincial spokesperson on education, Khalid Sayed, said: “This is deeply unacceptable. We have made the WCED aware of these cases and await immediate solutions.”

Sayed said no quality learning could take place under such conditions.

“Again, the WCED fails to plan. A just education system is the only solution. We repeat our calls for the WCED to ensure that former model C schools increase their class capacity and for more mobilised classrooms to be rolled out with the employment of more teachers,” he said.

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta said one way to address overcrowding was to procure mobile classrooms as soon as possible, otherwise the affected schools may have to move back to rotational learning and teaching just like it was happening in some of the schools inland.

Makaneta said education should be an apex priority of the government not only on paper but also in reality.

The GOOD Party’s Shaun August said overcrowded schools remained a big concern for learners and parents in the province, but seemed to get no urgency from the WCED.

August said that at the end of the 2021 academic year, 29 500 learners had still not been placed in a school environment, and that posed a threat to the rights of children and their progress across the academic system.

Congress of SA Students provincial secretary Mphumzi Giwu said there was great concern with regards to schools in poor areas as overcrowded classes persist.