Overcrowded Eastern Cape schools at the centre of court application against education MEC

School overcrowding has taken centre stage in an application before the Mthatha High Court which a group of fed up parents, who have children at four Eastern Cape schools, have lodged.

The parents filed the application on August 20, seeking a court order for the provision of more classrooms.

"The application also seeks to ameliorate overcrowding in schools throughout the Mthatha and Amathole school districts, by requiring the MEC submit to the court plans for decreasing the overcrowding at schools in these districts, which have not been identified in the government's existing infrastructure plans," said the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), which is representing the parents.

According to LRC, the schools include Attwell Madala Senior Secondary School in Mthatha, Enduku Junior Secondary School in eNgcobo, Dudumayo Senior Secondary School in Mqanduli, and Mnceba Senior Secondary School in Ntabankulu.  

"Overcrowded classrooms undermine children's right to a basic education as enshrined in Section 29 of the Constitution. Regulation 9(2) of the Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, state that 'acceptable' classrooms contain a maximum of 40 [pupils]," the LRC said in a statement.  

The Infrastructure Norms, published in 2013, were meant to be phased in over seven years. It required the MEC to provide plans for implementing the norms and to continually report back to the Minister of Basic Education on the progress of these plans, the law centre added.  

"However, available plans do not include provision for the applicant schools, where overcrowding has reached crisis levels," it added.  

The Department of Education says it is still in the process of preparing its response to the matter.

"We are still consolidating our response as the department. The time has not lapsed yet for us to submit documentation. We are also still collecting information, with the hope that we will respond on time...," department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima told News24.

Mtima added that the department would follow all court processes.

The LRC added that overcrowding at Mnceba Senior Secondary School has led teachers to hold classes under trees outside. At that school, there are 12 classes and with more than 80 pupils and two classes with more than 100 pupils.

"Enduku JSS has six classrooms with more than 70 [pupils] and Attwell Madala SSS has six classes with more than 80 [pupils]. Almost all the classrooms at Dudumayo SSS have more than 80 [pupils] and four classes have over 100 [pupils]."

The LRC said it hoped the court application would lead to a court order which resulted in more classrooms at the applicant schools and that all overcrowded schools in the Mthatha and Amathole districts would be included in the MEC's plans to implement the Infrastructure Norms.