Court asked to come to the rescue of pupils in overcrowded classrooms

Johannesburg – The Legal Resource Centre (LRC) has taken the Eastern Cape department of basic education to task over its failure to provide 65 classrooms to overcrowded schools in the area.

LRC last year asked the department to provide extra capacity at four schools, but to date, only one school has been provided with the necessary support.

The centre has since approached the Mthatha High Court to compel the department to provide the extra classrooms at Dudumayo High School in Mqanduli, Enduku Junior Secondary School in Engcobo, Mnceba Senior Secondary in Ntabankulu, and Attwell Madala Senior Secondary School in Mthatha.

Cameron McConnachie, the Makhanda regional director at the LRC, said the department had so far only provided 17 of the 65 classrooms.

“This is a major disaster in many schools and needs urgent attention.  Overcrowding, combined with Covid-19 is a terrible combination that is exacerbating high drop-out rates and cutting down on the curriculum that teachers can cover with the learners that remain,” said McConnachie.

“The Eastern Cape department of education’s response to the crisis is abysmal. We will be calling on the minister and the president to intervene.”

She said the harm caused by overcrowding had been aggravated by the Covid-19 regulations, which forced overcrowded schools to allow only a fraction of their pupils to attend school each day.

“For example, Dudumayo High School has seen their enrolment of grade 8 learners more than double from 75 in 2020 to 157 in 2021. Despite this increase, no more classrooms were provided.

“The result is that learners attend school on less than a quarter of the days they are supposed to attend.”

In 2013, the government enacted the Minimum Norms and Standards for educational facilities, requiring the government to ensure that by November 2016, all schools have access to sanitation and electricity and that all pit latrines are replaced with safe and adequate sanitation and schools built from inappropriate materials, such as mud and asbestos, are replaced.

However, the targets were missed.

Eastern Cape department of basic education spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima did not respond to questions sent to him on Wednesday and his phone rang unanswered.  McConnanchie said some fed-up parents had started building the classrooms themselves.

The province is known for its high dropout rates.  The Democratic Alliance estimates that 221 626 Eastern Cape pupils dropped out of school between 2016 and 2018.

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