Boy, 12, in Grade 1 with little brother

TWO brothers, six years apart in age, are both tackling Grade 1 in Port Elizabeth at the same time. The situation might seem unique but it has become the reality of a faulty education system that is on the verge of collapse in the Eastern Cape.

The Kondolo brothers – Asakhe, 6, and Usiphile, 12 – of Chatty, not only differ in age, they also have very different personalities. Asakhe is a bright, vibrant boy with an infectious enthusiasm for his surroundings. Usiphile, on the other hand, is shy and introverted.

Asakhe never stops talking while Usiphile mumbles and refuses to look one in the eye. Port Elizabeth child psychologist Louise Malan said his withdrawn nature might be due to low self-esteem caused by his late entry into school, and being in the same grade as his younger brother.

The brothers were raised in a loving but poor home by their mother, Buyiswa, who did her best under harsh conditions.

Usiphile started school when he was six years old at a school in Kwazakhele, where they were staying at the time.

It was when the family was moved from their home in the Kwazakhele informal settlement to a new housing development in Chatty that Usiphile stopped attending school because his mother could not afford the daily return taxi fare to Kwazakhele.

The scholar transport system at the time had ground to a halt as service providers claimed non-payment.

The Chatty area where they were relocated to was without a school until Alfonso Arries Primary School finally opened its doors this year. Usiphile was able to attend school again

Instead of school, Usiphile would loiter around the settlement and play with children almost half his age.

“It was beyond my control . . . I really could do nothing,” Buyiswa said.

This problem is endemic across the province, with thousands of children forced to walk up to 10km every day.

The Transport Department appointed a consulting company to redesign the embattled pupil transport service at a cost of R4-million in August. The issue had been moved to the department a year earlier following claims of fraud and corruption.

Usiphile failed Grade 1 repeatedly because he never received the special attention he needed to catch up. This despite South Africa investing more money in public education than any other emerging country in the world, according to the SA Institute of Race Relations.

Yet he still dreams of becoming a policeman one day while his little brother wants to enlist in the army.

Usiphile’s mother concedes that her elder son has a long, hard road to walk if he wants to fulfil his dream.

“If I could afford to send him to a private school or a better government school, things would be different,” she said.

Even if Usiphile never again fails a grade, he will be 23 in matric. And attending school every day might not be enough for him. Eastern Cape teachers spend, on average, only three hours in the classroom.

Statistics tabled before the province’s executive council last month revealed that of the teachers’ seven working hours, less than half the time was used for teaching. This is borne out by Usiphile, barely able to scrawl his name and count beyond 20.

Meanwhile, his brother easily writes his name and converses in English.

Usiphile prefers Xhosa and knows only a few English words. This saddens his mother who said she wanted him to have a chance of getting a good education and not have to live in poverty as she had to.

Alfonso Arries Primary has its own problems. The school’s acting principal, Bruce Damons, said pupils did not write the annual national assessments in September because of the non-delivery of workbooks and stationery.

“We are a new school and had to survive pretty much on our own devices.”

The school photocopied workbooks and borrowed from neighbouring schools.

The brothers were forced to wait till November for their own 2012 workbooks.

Since opening, the school has been plagued by a teacher shortage and nonpayments of salaries. And the department has already slashed the number of teachers for next year by more than 3 000 posts in the Eastern Cape due to a decline in pupil numbers, a budget shortfall of R800-million and curriculum needs.

The school is a prefab enclosure and with the department’s R35-billion infrastructure backlog, it may be a while before a more sturdy building is constructed.

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