Desperate school in court bid

Fight to get more classrooms, teachers due to massive overcrowding

A Port Elizabeth school that has more than double the number of pupils it is able to accommodate, has resorted to court to try to force the Education Department to provide it with 22 more pre-fabricated classrooms, more teachers and furniture.

Alfonso Arries Primary in Chatty has more than 1 700 children crammed into a school designed for about 800.

The Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstown, which is acting for some concerned Alfonso Arries teachers and the school governing body (SGB), says there are 165 children in one Grade R classroom and at least five other classes with more than 100 pupils in each.

It is bringing an urgent high court application to compel Education Minister Angie Motshekga and the provincial Education Department to provide 22 more temporary classrooms and age-appropriate desks and chairs for 900-plus extra pupils at the school.

The school is also wants more temporary teachers employed.

SGB member Bonelwa Bangeni said in an affidavit that the school had only 35 teachers, 10 fewer than it should have according to the 2015 post establishment.

The school also needed at least 22 more classrooms to reduce the average to the norm of 40 pupils per classroom.

Bangeni said the school had first become overcrowded when the community swelled after the completion of the Zanemvula housing project in the area in 2013.

Its pupils were predominantly from an impoverished background.

The school did not have the resources to improve the situation.

Despite many meetings with the Education Department and assurances from the office of the superintendent-general, no help had been forthcoming.

The district education office had indicated that some children must move to another school, Dr AW Habelgaarn, in the area.

But Bangeni said AW Habelgaarn refused to enrol more pupils, saying it knew nothing of the department’s plan to transfer children there.

To make matters worse, the district department had forced Alfonso Arries to enrol more children when it was already overcrowded.

Bangeni said the matter was urgent as the prejudice suffered by pupils without adequate infrastructure was serious, ongoing and irreparable and teachers were not able to teach properly.

Lazola Mweli, chairman of the committee of concerned educators at the school, said the teachers spent all their time trying to keep order in the overcrowded classrooms instead of teaching.

“All of us have to work incredibly long hours and we are taking strain, Mweli, who teaches Grade 2, said.

“We all experience high levels of stress, anxiety, illness and in many cases depression.”

He said pupils being squashed together and often sitting on the floor in unbearably hot and stuffy classrooms was also a health risk.

“We have tried everything to get the attention of the department to deal with the overcrowding.

“We have no desire to litigate against our employers, but we see no other option.

“We cannot continue to teach in overcrowded classrooms. The department has broken all of their promises to us,” Mweli said.

LRC attorney Cameron McConnachie said the matter was set down for the middle of next month, but he hoped the department would resolve the crisis before then.

The department had not commented at the time of going to print.

-Adrienne Carlisle

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