Cape Town – As thousands of pupils are expected to return to the classroom across the country today, Lehlohonolo Primary School parents in Gugulethu have vowed to shut the school again if no space is made available for their children.
The Department of Basic Education (DBE) yesterday applauded provinces for “drastically” reducing the backlog of unplaced pupils in grades 1 and 8, which are notorious for being problematic at this time of the year.
But a total 16 117 Grade 8s were still awaiting admission in schools across the country. Of these, 5 896 were from the Western Cape.
A further 8 982 Grade 1s were also yet to be placed, 2 440 of whom were from the province.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the demand for space in schools, especially in these grades, remained a challenge.
“All provinces are experiencing a high demand in particular areas. The Council of Education Ministers(CEM) met (on Saturday) and the matter of school admission was identified as critical. This was because the system cannot afford to see any learners being left behind.
“It was agreed that provinces would work with speed to place all the learners in the next week. CEM appeals to parents and guardians to co-operate with officials at the district level in order to accelerate the placement process,” said Motshekga.
She said that health and safety remained the department's priority and directions were issued to provincial departments and schools for implementation.
While the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) said that it was all systems go for today as the delay in schools reopening gave it extra time to prepare and put plans in place to cope with any disruptions. Lehlohonolo Primary School parents claim they don’t know where their children will be taught.
According to parent Zandile Mbande, the department had promised to provide a prefab building for the pupils who had been mixed with other classes for more than two years.
“That is the only grade that doesn’t have its own classroom. The department promised that, by the time schools reopen, they will have their own classroom.
“They are mixed with other grades and that is not a conducive learning environment. When we engaged with the principal last week, she directed all questions to the department, claiming that she was also still awaiting feedback,” said Mbande.
On Friday, WCED officials were sent to the school and irate parents locked them inside the school after they allegedly told the parents there was no alternative plan.
“We believe the department had more than enough time to prepare because the reopening date was delayed.
“There is absolutely no excuse. If there is no classroom or good plan in place, we will shut down the school,” said Mbande.
Kerry Mauchline, the spokesperson for provincial education MEC Debbie Schäfer, said the department was engaging with the school about the matter.
“While the school gates were temporarily closed by a group of parents on Friday, it was not a hostile situation and was resolved through engagement with the group.
“There is an interim solution with amended timetables, and the district will also meet with staff tomorrow (today) for further discussions,” she said.