136 schools in province to close soon

Department of Education conference hears details of rationalisation project

As part of its rationalisation of schools in the province, the Eastern Cape Department of Education will close 136 small and unviable schools this month.

According to project manager Jonathan Godden, while 187 schools were identified for closure last year, the 136 had completed public participation processes.

The affected pupils would report for school elsewhere after the June holidays.

Godden said none of the schools facing closure were in the newly formed Nelson Mandela Bay education district – with some located in the previous Uitenhage district and the Tsitsikamma area.

Closing schools was a slow, detailed process, he said.

Godden gave a presentation on the rationalisation project at the department’s User Asset Management Planning Conference taking place at the Boardwalk ICC.

The conference aims to guide officials through the department’s 10-year infrastructure plan.

He said a major challenge to the delivery of quality education was the large number of schools, all requiring staff and services.

“The average number of learners at a school in Gauteng is 983 while the average number in the Eastern Cape is 347.

“The average number of teachers for a school that size is 10 which means one principal and one HOD [head of department],” he said.

“The Gauteng schools qualify for 30 teachers with numerous HODs, which means they have an effective school management team.”

He said the fewer the pupils and the lower the staff component, the more expensive it was to provide basic education to every pupil.

“We now have a situation where we have overcrowded schools in urban areas which are understaffed due to the number of smaller schools elsewhere in the province.

“We need to graduate smaller schools into medium-sized schools and medium schools into larger schools, and close the very small schools.”

Godden said 1 902 small and unviable schools would be closed in the province over the next 10 years.

“We have followed two tracks. Those identified for immediate closure have not created the need for scholar transport, hostels or additional infrastructure.”

According to Godden, the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal are mainly rural and face massive challenges in terms of infrastructure backlogs due to the legacy of apartheid, urbanisation and migration, with people abandoning schools in rural areas for schools in towns.

Small schools and those with declining enrolments would be “deprioritised” and placed on “maintenance only” lists.

Preference would be given to refurbishing hostels, building “mega” schools in urban areas and more high schools.

“For the past 20 years all the focus has been given to primary schools. We must now give focus to secondary schools.

“[These] must either be academic, technical, vocational or occupational and should be built with the necessary workshops, music rooms, art rooms and laboratories instead of generic high schools.

“Priority will be given to those hostels that will enable the rationalisation of more schools.

“We also need to give scholar transport a bigger budget allocation but there are problems that must be dealt with.

“We are transporting many learners who should not be transported.”

He said sometimes buses passed several schools before dropping off pupils, due to parents’ preference.

The department had also discovered that hundreds of thousands of rands were being spent on just one or two pupils annually.

“When we asked the Department of Transport they said they did not know why. We need a bigger budget for transport but it is unlikely we will receive this until the department addresses these inefficiencies.”

The department’s chief director of physical resources, Zama Mnqanqeni, said education in the province still faced serious backlogs.

He said that during the previous financial year, 77 schools received access to water and 88 received sanitation, 221 temporary classrooms were delivered and 18 Grade R classrooms were built.

“This year 53 schools received sanitation and 34 replacement schools are being built. Two priority hostels are under construction.”

He said the department was working to replace unviable schools by rolling out mega schools along with hostels.

The department estimates its 10-year infrastructure rollout will cost between R1.5-billion and R1.8-billion a year, with the costs possibly increasing to R2-billion before the 10year period is completed.

The conference continues today.

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