By Lynn Williams, Khanyi Ndabeni and Sonwabile Antonie
MORE than 50 pupils are having to squeeze into one classroom at several Nelson Mandela Bay schools as classes double up due to a massive teacher shortage that has plunged basic education in the Eastern Cape into disarray.
The shambolic situation, following the axing of more than 4000 temporary teachers last month, has prompted Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to visit the Eastern Cape today to investigate.
“Recent media reports on the termination of temporary teachers‘ contracts, challenges of scholar transport and school nutrition programmes are some of the reasons the minister will visit the province from Wednesday till Thursday,” Motshekga‘s spokesman, Hope Makgatlhe, said yesterday.
Motshekga and her deputy minister, Enver Surty, will meet Premier Noxolo Kiviet, and education director- general Mandla Makupula and his top management to assess the extent of the problems.
During a visit to several Nelson Mandela Bay schools yesterday, The Herald found hundreds of pupils having to share desks in already overcrowded classrooms.
Some were squeezed in so tightly they could hardly move, while others were occupying seats at the teacher‘s table. An entire Grade 1 class at Booysen Park Primary School were left to their own devices when overworked teachers allegedly said they could not handle the class volumes and refused to accommodate the pupils who had been left without a teacher. Grade 12 pupils at the Lwazilethu and VM Kwinana high schools will be without teachers for critical subjects such as physical science and mathematics for as long as it takes the department to iron out the issue.
Angry parents and pupils at Sanctor High School took to the streets and marched to the district education department offices last week to voice their concerns over the lack of temporary teachers at their school.
They demanded the reinstatement of nine temporary teachers who had been axed.
Principal Reginald Jacobs said yesterday no teaching had taken place since the school opened last week. He said 400 pupils were without teachers.
In some of the poorest communities, such as Helenvale and Missionvale, children who are dependent on the only meal they get at school are going hungry because the department is yet to deliver meals through its controversial school feeding scheme.
Other problems such as schools still not receiving stationery, books and equipment have hampered teaching.
Meanwhile, hundreds of children are either walking to school or not attending school at all because the department cancelled their transport.
Lwazilethu High School principal Thozamile Plaatjies said about 70 pupils in grades 10, 11 and 12 were without a physical science teacher. “We are worried because science is one of the killer subjects for our pupils.”
Because most of the children were from impoverished backgrounds, parents could not afford to pay a temporary teacher.
A parent at Booysen Park Primary, who claimed her child was milling around the school grounds because overworked Grade 1 teachers could not cope with extra pupils in their classes, said the situation was out of control.
School principal Yusuf Samuels could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Alpha Primary principal Anton Arendse said his teachers had been forced to teach double the number of pupils in one class.
Grade 6 teacher Lorna Petersen said it was almost impossible for a teacher to give a pupil individual attention. Cowan High School principal Trevor Dolley said he had lost 10 temporary teachers and the situation was a “crisis”. Missionvale Primary deputy principal Willie Arendse said the workbooks they had were not sufficient to conduct a day‘s worth of learning.
Provincial education spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said the department was finalising an audit to determine how many temporary teachers there were in the province and how many were actually needed.
“Once the audit is complete, we will employ some of the teachers permanently. Others may be employed on contract.”
However, he said the department had cancelled its transport contract, as well as all temporary teachers‘ contracts in a desperate bid to remain within its budget for the current financial year. “The department overspent by R1.2-billion during the 2010/11 financial year and was forced to minimise its expenses.”
On the issue of stationery, Pulumani said “the department is working on it” and “many” schools would receive their stationery before the end of the month.
Some former Model C high schools have turned away hundreds of applications for Grade 8.
Victoria Park principal Mike Vermaak said 600 pupils had applied for grade 8, but the school had accepted only 200.
Lawson Brown principal Donovan Cairncross said the school had received 430 applications for Grade 8, but could only take 175. He also had to turn away about 30 pupils who had turned up at the school at the start of the school year in a bid for a place.
Other schools said their application figures were not readily available, although principals at Herbert Hurd and Erica said they had not been bombarded by parents seeking late registration.
The SA Democratic Teachers‘ Union demanded yesterday that the Basic Education Department urgently reinstate temporary teachers in the Eastern Cape who had been fired.
“All temporary teachers whose services have been terminated must be reinstated as a matter of extreme urgency,” Sadtu provincial secretary Fezeka Loliwe said.
“We cannot fold our arms when the education of the children from the poor and working class communities is being sabotaged by those who take home a huge chunk from the taxpayers‘ coffers,” Loliwe said.
Click here for more on this story in our e-Edition on Wednesday.
By Lynn Williams, Khanyi Ndabeni and Sonwabile Antonie