Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi Photo: INLSA

Johannesburg - The mother of an 11-year-old from Norkem Primary School in Kempton Park was mortified when her child was given the task of building a coffin and a mummified doll for their assessment for the term.

Mantoa Selepe, who objected to the project, informed the Grade 5 class teacher that her child would not submit the project, for a number of reasons and concerns she had.

“We don’t refute the importance of ancient learning; however, asking a child to make a coffin is very traumatic and inappropriate. 

“Especially as my daughter has just lost her grandmother. This invokes sadness and unpleasant memories for her. 

"It is also against African culture to play with death as it brings bad omens to the family. Africans respect death,” she said. 

Selepe added she did not see the significance of making or building a coffin at the stage the learners are at and that teaching pupils to build a coffin could lead to their experimenting in real-life contexts.

The shocked mother showed The Star an email she wrote to the school governing body (SGB) to complain about the task given to her child’s class.

“Dear Mr Clark, Grade 5 children are given the project of building a coffin, and thereafter, mummified the doll and put inside the coffin.

"Verbal instructions from the teacher are that they may use a doll by wrapping it up with foil to make a mummy. We therefore would like to inform you that our child will not be doing the project,” the email stated in part.

Selepe said the member of the SGB refused to meet her to discuss the issue. 

Department of Education district managers also told her that they could not alter the curriculum.

“On Friday at 6.18pm, I called the chairperson of the SGB requesting a meeting regarding the coffin and mummified project, and other general school matters. 

“He told me he didn’t take instructions from a parent, but from the district, and therefore there won’t be a meeting.”

John Mashala, the chairperson of the SGB, said the school was aware of the project, but it would not be discontinued. 

“The project has been assigned and prescribed for many years. The syllabus is quality assured and Selepe’s complaint is unnecessary,” he said.

Steve Mabona, spokesperson for the Gauteng Department of Education, confirmed that the assignment was part of the curriculum. 

“The purpose was to do research on the discovery of the tombstone and it was meant as an extended opportunity for learners. 

"This is in term three of the national history curriculum for Grade 5 as per the curriculum and the assessment policy document page 40 intermediate social sciences. It is about the Egyptian background preparations before the person passes on. 

“The practical part of the assignment was meant to help learners understand this culture.”

Mabona also said the project was directed as per the department’s syllabus to the Egyptian culture, and they understood the concerns brought about in terms of perceptions around death.

“We will debrief all the learners and explain the intent and purpose of the assignment,” he added.

Selepe confirmed that her daughter was given an alternative task, but this was not what she wanted, and she would be taking further steps to address the matter.

The Star