As the 2024 academic year gets under way, the Western Cape Department of Education (WCED) has come under fire for its unplaced learner crisis, as civic organisations dismissed budget constraints as a valid excuse, citing the need for effective planning and upholding its constitutional obligations.
In a statement, the WCED said it was “fighting to place learners despite massive budget cut(s)” adding that they had received 609 new applications in the first 10 days of January 2024, and was still busy placing 2 636 Grade 1 and 8 learners.
Parents for Equal Education SA (Peesa) founder Vanessa le Roux said the placement crisis is not new.
“Each and every year we have to deal with all the lies this department is feeding the public, they are the biggest contributing factor to many drop-outs, because they don’t provide education for all. Each and every year they play around with numbers, and hope we can't come to the conclusion that they just blatantly lie, or realise that the crisis deepens every year.
“Our Constitution never said they should provide basic education if the budget allows them to. The Constitution says they must provide basic education for each and every child in this province, and we allow (them) to hide behind budget cuts,” said Le Roux.
Equal Education Law Centre’s, Tshego Phala said: “The WCED has traditionally alluded to budget constraints when addressing their failure to place learners. This year has proven to be no exception. Building schools is a long-term solution that necessitates proper budget planning. Due to a lack of effective planning, the WCED has consistently failed to address learner placement for years. Budget cuts and austerity measures on the part of National Treasury has also had a huge impact on this situation. The WCED must proactively address challenges of learner placement, with both short-term and long-term solutions. There are existing legislative mechanisms, such as section 3(4) of the South African Schools Act, that require MECs to report to the Basic Education Minister on their inability to ensure enough school places. This provision exists to ensure that the Department of Basic Education, in collaboration with the provincial education departments, devise plans to ensure enough school places for learners. This could include addressing the budget issues.”
The SAHRC said it would monitor the process carefully to determine if any intervention was required, so that all applicants were treated fairly.
“The WCPO remains available to receive complaints relating to violations of, or threats to the right to education,“ the SAHRC in the province said.
Basic Education Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga, said: “The challenges are mainly in the Western Cape and Gauteng due to migration of people to the two provinces. The department has the responsibility of ensuring that every child has a space but parents and caregivers always prefer to take their children to schools closest to them resulting in overcrowding.”
Western Cape Education MEC David Maynier said: “With schools closed, it has been difficult to finalise placement, and once schools open for teachers on Monday, this process will resume.
Our officials and contractors have worked hard throughout the holiday period to ensure that we expand the number of places available for the learners we’ve already received applications for, and to prepare for the expected extremely late applications received since January 1, 2024.
We are building 10 new schools and three replacement schools for learners in the 2024 school year. In addition, classroom expansions are in progress.”