Anger over move to shut down PE and U’hage districts schools

COULD BE AFFECTED: One of the schools in Uitenhage facing closure Picture: EUGENE COETZEE
COULD BE AFFECTED: One of the schools in Uitenhage facing closure

Nearly 50 face possible closure in PE and Uitenhage educational districts

The possible closure of almost 50 schools in the Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage educational districts which are deemed unviable has been met with a fierce backlash from educators and parents who fear for the affected children’s future schooling.

The 48 schools have less than a week to make submissions to the Department of Education, justifying why they should not be shut down.

This Friday’s deadline follows the department sending a notice at the end of last month to the 1 902 affected schools around the province, giving them 30 days to provide grounds why their school should remain operational.

The schools do not meet the national minimum threshold for pupil registration of 135 in primary school, and 200 in high school.

The move has met with strong opposition from education experts, staff and parents who say should the closures be implemented, it would be detrimental for primary school pupils in particular who would most likely drop out of school, as well as negatively affect communities.

Department spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said 30 schools were affected in the Uitenhage district, which spans Tsitsikamma in the west, Kirkwood in the north and Patensie in the east.

Eighteen schools were af fected in the Port Elizabeth district, which consists of schools within the city borders.

As a result of the dwindling number of pupils and the effects of multigrade teaching, the schools have been deemed “unviable” by the department in terms of Section 33 of the SA Schools Act of 1996.

Subsequently they will either be closed or amalgamated with a neighbouring school.

While there is no fixed deadline associated with the amalgamation or closure, another education spokesman said it would take at least three years.

The letter also states the department will provide means to ensure all affected pupils are not excluded from their right to education, and as such, scholar transport or placement in school hostels will be arranged.

Education specialist Professor Susan van Rensburg said the closure or amalgamation of schools was a shortsighted move and would negatively affect pupils, particularly in farming communities.

“In an attempt to save a few rand they [department] are introducing another lost generation,” she said.

“These kids need parental guidance and I will fight tooth and nail to keep these schools open. “In these smaller, multigrade schools education is prioritised as there are no other detrimental things around. “If they are taken to bigger schools in big towns they will be exposed to [negative] influences.”

“In the multigrade classes they have coping techniques which can be implemented as the teacher knows each of their pupil’s needs.”

“In bigger schools they won’t get the specialised attention they need, creating a window for the negative things such as crime, alcohol and drugs to influence them and result in the pupils dropping out.”

Van Rensburg’s sentiments were shared by education expert Graeme Bloch, who said: “The concerns of these affected schools and communities are valid – one should never close a school, period.

“Despite being taught in a multigrade environment, it is still more beneficial than amalgamating schools. “These children will be negatively affected by going to bigger schools as they will simply be lost in the system and will be exposed to other dangers and influences,” Bloch said.

School governing body chairwoman Patricia Dyeli, from Amanzi Primary School located about 10km off the R334 between Uitenhage and Motherwell, said the school’s closure would severely affect the stability of the community.

“The government promised us they would bring services to the people, now they are taking it away,” she said.

“This is more than just a small school, it is the community’s church on Sundays and meeting place for everything from weddings to funerals. “Closing this school might end up being the end for this community of about 100 people.”

“These are small kids who still need parental supervision. If not, many of them will end up dropping out.”

Cecile Viljoen, principal at Gustav Reichel Primary in Eersterivier, near Clarkson, said closing the school would be “shutting down the heart of the community”.

“They [department] think it will be more affordable, whereas the costs for transport and hostel fees could have contributed to a teacher or two being given to the school and resolving the multigrade teaching issue,” she said.

“These children are not mature enough to handle the situations and influences they will face in bigger towns. “I have been the principal here for 20 years and in that time the school has been a crucial part of this community.”

Anne van Straaten, principal at Zuurangs Primary near Kareedouw, said: “We are very concerned about the scholar transport alternative as you have to travel for about 15km along a mountain pass to get to the school. ”

“And if they put them in hostels there is the issue of safety and affordability of supplies which the parents must buy. “In our small school we provide personalised attention because we know the pupils individually. If these kids go to big schools in big towns, many will drop out.”

However, the department said the closure of schools as part of the rationalisation process was a result of urbanisation.

“It’s not the department, it’s the urbanisation by parents. The parents are getting jobs in the city and can now take their kids with them. “Also, we have given the schools time to make submissions. ”

“If there is just one school for kilometres in all directions, we won’t just close it. Nothing is finalised. We ask the affected schools to take advantage of the timelines.”

When asked whether teachers were facing possible retrenchment, Pulumani said: “No one will lose their jobs. “We might have to readvertise positions and possibly relocate principals and teachers to other schools, but you won’t lose your position.”

“It is a national policy but the letter sent out to schools is not an indication [they] will be closed. It should rather be seen as a precursor to formal meetings.”

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