R60m plan to address school crisis

Zandile Mbabela

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Parents try to ensure their children are accepted at Chatty’s Alfonso Arries Primary School. Picture: BRIAN WITBOO

OVERCROWDED Nelson Mandela Bay schools that are bursting at the seams could soon benefit from R60- million set aside by the provincial Basic Education Department to tackle the overflow.

The government also plans to do away with grades eight and nine in primary schools.

Eastern Cape Education Department head Mthunywa Ngonzo yesterday said the money had been put aside for the purchase of extra mobile classes and that these should be “sorted out” by the end of next month.

“Districts have identified all schools that are suffering overcrowding and have taken it up with province,” he said.

“We made an application to the Independent Development Trust and are pushing to have overcrowding sorted out by the end of February.”

Pressing cases of overcrowding identified by Port Elizabeth district officials include Alfonso Arries, Imbasa and KwaNoxolo primary schools, all situated in developing areas of Nelson Mandela Bay.

Alfonso Arries, which was built to house 800 pupils but currently accommodates more than 2100, serves the expanding Chatty settlement while Imbasa caters for the growing Motherwell NU29 population.

KwaNoxolo Primary serves the community of the same name, as well as some pupils from neighbouring Joe Slovo and KwaDwesi Extension settlements.

Each is in dire need of relief for overcrowding and requests have been made on their behalf by district director Nyathi Ntsiko for extra mobile classrooms.

Ntsiko said top of the priority list was Alfonso Arries, which was visited by MPs and MPLs this week to see what speedy solutions to their problems could be offered. “One of the biggest challenges for us is that the municipality is still moving people to that area,” he said. “But I have started chasing both national and provincial departments to step in and help.”

Alfonso Arries principal Nomaxabiso Mkencele said she had compiled a list of things the department should take into consideration in its quest to help the school. These included the expected handing over of 1060 RDP houses to residents in April.

“We got word that 1060 more houses are to be handed over to residents in April. That just shows the problem is about to be compounded,” she said. “But we are at least hopeful that something will be done because the department’s approach to our problem this year is different from last year.”

Parents and residents this week called for the building of a second primary as well as a high school. In the meantime, however, suggestions were made for pupil transport to ferry pupils to schools in neighbouring Despatch.

Provincial education portfolio committee chairman Phumzile Mnguni said they had told Ntsiko to bypass all protocol and ask Ngonzo to provide pupil transport to ferry excess pupils to schools in the Despatch area.

“There has to be something done urgently within two weeks so that kids who aren’t in school because of space [problems] don’t miss out on schooling.”

National department spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said Alfonso Arries was part of a list of schools “being given attention as a matter of urgency”.

“The department has a comprehensive plan to upgrade infrastructure of all schools in similar circumstances to desired levels,” he said. “We are attending to all schools and the Eastern Cape is receiving specific attention due to the nature of the challenges there and thus [Alfonso Arries] is part of the schools being given priority.”