Cape Town - A lack of basic resources, overcrowded classrooms and the overhanging fear of violence are just some of the reasons why some schools in poor communities are underperforming.
Manenberg High School principal Cameron Williams said among the major challenges faced by his school was the ongoing violence in the area affecting families and pupils.
Another was a lack of resources.
“We do have wi-fi at school, but our computer lab is not fully functional. What we receive from WCED (Western Cape Education Department) we need to cover everything for school,” he said.
According to Williams, about 60% of the parent population is unemployed.
The school is a no-fee-paying school and is faced with many challenges.
On overcrowding, Williams said: “We have 28 teachers, but we are sitting with learners that are almost 50 in a grade, especially in the lower grades. We just take in any learner that comes. There is no selection process. It negatively impacts what we’re trying to do here.”
He said many students also struggled with the curriculum, and because of the large number of pupils in a single classroom, as well as time constraints, teachers were unable to allocate more time to explaining difficult concepts.
According to the Department of Basic Education, the top five underperforming schools in 2019 were Beauvallon Secondary School, Manenberg Secondary School, Masakheke Combined School, Silikamva High School and Intshukumo Secondary School.
The top-performing schools last year were named as Westerford High School, Rustenburg Girls’ High School, Star College (Bridgetown), Herschel Girls’ School, and Springfield Convent of the Holy Rosary.
Education researcher and policy analyst Sara Black said there was overwhelming evidence internationally that poverty impeded learning.
“My own research highlights the organisational barriers that poor schools suffer in organising teaching and learning opportunities internally, including lack of support staff, insufficient rooms for the students they must house, and teachers being spread across curriculum areas for which they are un- or underprepared.”
Black said public schools that can produce good results year after year are those that get in a significant cash injection on top of what the state provides them, which she refers to as “fortified” schools.
“These schools get the majority of their budget from collecting fees, which they use to build more rooms and hire extra staff, including administrative staff.
“The schools that struggle to produce results are those that can’t get this extra supplementation, and must make do with far less to serve often far more students, and hence struggle to make ends meet.” Black said the department was not doing enough to assist schools in struggling communities.
“Most of our public systems are under-maintained and crumbling, and need serious investment. But focusing on fixing schools alone, without thinking about the systems of which they are a part, will not go very far.
“Education, health, housing, food, safety, transport these all interact.”