79 children in one class: Parents, pupils shut down overcrowded Cape Town school
Picture 79 high school pupils crammed into one average-sized classroom.
Principal Ntombi Goniwe and her pupils do not have to imagine this as it is the reality at Bloekombos Secondary School in Kraaifontein.
Fed up with the situation, parents locked the school gates on Wednesday, while pupils protested on the side of the road outside the school, demanding another school be built in the area to deal with the overcrowding.
Goniwe said she understood their frustration. The school was built to accommodate 1 200 pupils. There are 2 113 children enrolled.
"Learning is compromised when there are at least 60 children per classroom. The teacher can't reach them all," she told News24.
"The situation is also a heavy load on the teacher, who can't do justice to [what they are employed to do]."
The school was opened in 2009. Before then, pupils were taught from a temporary structure for at least three years.
According to the school governing body (SGB), the overcrowding issue was brought to the Western Cape Education Department's attention five years ago.
The SGB said classrooms were jam-packed with pupils. A shortage of furniture and deteriorating infrastructure exacerbated the situation.
Vandalism meant excessive maintenance costs while school discipline was also on the decline, said SGB secretary Buhle Buso.
"Teacher workloads doubled. [They are] teaching big classes and assessment is compromised. Monitoring of day to day functionality is not possible with these huge numbers."
Specialist classrooms were being used to accommodate the teaching of other subjects at the expense of practical subjects including science and technology, Buso said.
Matric results were also on the decline.
SGB member Siyabulela Sulelo said numerous education department officials had been contacted to deal with the overcrowding but no assistance had been received.
Jessica Shelver, spokesperson for Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, however, said the school had since last year been instructed not to admit more pupils.
The school was already at capacity, she said, and in January, a new school was opened nearby.
"Both the SGB and the principal blatantly ignored this instruction and actually did exactly the opposite. They have admitted far more learners for 2019 than they can manage and they have not referred new learners to the new high school that has opened its doors and is currently under-utilised," said Shelver.
"They are now demanding a new school and we are not in a position to assist in the matter. The [department] will not be building yet another school in the area when a nearby school can accommodate the learners.
"If they continue to shut down the school we will be forced to consider legal options and disciplinary action against those involved."
Goniwe said she had been in her position since last October and according to school records, the department had known about the issue since 2009.
"The very first year it reached 1 200, which is its capacity," she said.
The department had requested that the school be a hub for children who had not been placed and had provided them with 18 mobile classrooms.
Goniwe said the school management and governing body had requested that a new school be established with these classrooms to accommodate 900 pupils and their teachers.
"We were never told about the new high school [being] their plan to alleviate overcrowding at our school. Our plan has never been hidden," she said.
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