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Saftu laments overcrowding at some schools

South Africa - Pretoria - 13 January 2023. Parents gathered at Tshwane West District for placement of their kids in schools. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ African News Agency(ANA)

South Africa - Pretoria - 13 January 2023. Parents gathered at Tshwane West District for placement of their kids in schools. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ African News Agency(ANA)

Published Oct 27, 2023


The South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) is challenging government officials to sign-up their children in public schools.

The union said it is worried that government continues to bungle the delivery of basic education at the expense of children, their futures, and the future of the country.

In a comprehensive report on the Inadequate and/or lack of provision of essential services and basic infrastructure by various organs of state in certain villages within the province of Eastern Cape, a section dealing with complaints in the basic education sector confirmed their worst worries.

“Our worry has been and is still the impact on learning and teaching by lack of infrastructure, procurement of goods and hiring of educators. By example of two schools – Loyiso Secondary School and Cancele Primary School – the investigation by the Public Protector has painted an anecdotal proof of the true state of public schools in rural areas across our country,” said Saftu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

For instance, Loyiso Secondary School enrols 618 learners, but only has 10 classrooms.

Vavi said this means, on average, there are 61 learners per classroom, but because learners are not spread evenly across grades, this means other classrooms have more learners than the average. Hence, there are 116 learners in a grade 9 classroom, 121 in one grade 8 classroom, and 164 learners in one grade 10 classroom.

“This situation acutely illustrates the problem of classroom overcrowding that we have lamented for some time, and the consequences that arise out of it. Overcrowding is not a conducive environment under which learning and teaching can take place effectively. Educators waste a lot of teaching time on discipline and often cannot cover their curriculum as expected within a stipulated time frame. This disadvantages all learners as they miss teaching time,” Vavi said.

He further said this condition robs learners who have barriers to learning from accessing education because an educator has no ample time to give each learner a deserved attention and would not give adequate assessment feedback to all the learners.

In addition, Vavi said the school has no administration block. Educators, a total of 17, are crammed into one staff room. He said just as classroom overcrowding has negative ramifications, so is staff room overcrowding.

“Staff rooms are meant to be spaces in which educators do their administrative work, such as marking, recording of assessments and filing. Overcrowded staff rooms are not conducive for this and contribute to unnecessary strife among educators,” he said.

Vavi said the school (Loyiso Secondary) has no library, natural science laboratory, and school hall, no computer laboratory.

“But these revelations do not shock us because the National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) reported that out of a total of 23,276 schools in the country in 2021, 17,832 had no libraries, 19,840 had no natural science laboratories, and 15,584 had no computer laboratories/centres. Even in schools that had computer centres, such centres are often small and contain old, worn equipment. Some schools with designated libraries do not have reading materials in those libraries.

“The lack of infrastructure in schools is not only due to mismanagement, but also due to fiscal budget cuts. Hence, the staff establishment is an additional problem, which leaves the poorest schools (quintile 1 to 3) most affected. The learner enrolment and number of teachers at Loyiso gives evidence to this, as it is 1:36. This is despite the fact that educators in principal and deputy principal posts do not do a lot of teaching. Public service institutions are already understaffed, and the intermittent moratorium on the filing of vacant posts (including this one) has had further detrimental consequences on the departments,” he said.

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