Eastern Cape Schools
||15 October 2006 12:00
|Show: ||Carte Blanche|
As South Africa's matriculants sit their final exams, education bosses in the Eastern Cape have promised improved results on last year's 56 percent pass rate - the lowest marks in the country.
Ruda Landman (Carte Blanche presenter): 'Matriculation is not so much an event as it is a process that starts 12 years earlier, and every day of those 12 years makes a difference to the final result.'
With some schools literally falling apart, the future prospects of these pupils seem bleak.
We were contacted by NGOs concerned about the dire state of some schools in the province. A Carte Blanche journalist captured these images of 13 schools in the townships near Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage.
While researching we used a hidden camera; what we found was shocking. These schools are in a dismal state... dirty, neglected, many of them hanging by a thread.
Dr Habelgaarn Primary is known as the school of hell. The vandalised grounds host gang shootouts and eight classrooms have been trashed. Bit by bit, the whole school is being carried away.
Lettie Fick (Acting Head: Dr Habelgaarn Primary): 'Every day you have to tell yourself: 'Lord, give me strength, just for today'.'
Teacher Lettie Fick recently took the helm as acting principal.
Ruda: 'How have circumstances changed over the last 26 years?'
Lettie: 'We used to be provided with everything. Now we are only provided with certain things, depending on the number of learners.'
Sam Snayer is education boss for Port Elizabeth.
Sam Snayer (District Manager: Department of Education, Port Elizabeth): 'The physical planning section's estimations to completely eradicate classroom shortages, attend to renovations and return schools to acceptable state is a staggering R20-billion for the Port Elizabeth district only.'
Thousands of Eastern Cape schools have no water, electricity or proper sanitation. The backlog inherited from apartheid is becoming a crisis, with 572 completely unsafe 'disaster schools'.
Sam: 'Self-evident what the effects will be if you don't have desks, if you don't have the basic stuff, if rain pours through the ceilings and so forth. For goodness sake - you can't have children learn in such conditions!'
It will take R15-billion to fully cover the shortfall, but only R2.5-billion has been spent over the last 11 years, leading to shortages of basics like desks and chairs. All the schools we saw had impressive collections of broken furniture that the department can't replace.
'Ruth': 'I even offered my chair to some of the children who were writing standing.'
We have obscured Ruth's identity to protect her teaching job.
'Ruth': 'We were lucky to be assisted by the Jewish women of Port Elizabeth and the Rotary Cub in PE West. They gave us the chairs and the desks.'
We spoke to Duncan Hindle, the National Director General of the National Department of Education.
Ruda: 'Are we relying on sponsorships...?'
Duncan Hindle (National Director General: Department of Education): 'No we can't. It is an obligation for government, and I believe that this government has sufficient resources...'
But textbooks ordered from the department arrive sporadically, if at all. 'Ruth' has to teach with only 30 of the 240 textbooks she ordered. She's lucky, some teachers get just one.
'Ruth': 'I keep the books in my cupboard. So the children just use the books at school; they can't do their homework, their parents cannot help them.'
Things like science labs or resource centres are non-existent. Those that did exist, like this library, have been vandalised.
Lettie: 'Windows are broken, roofs are broken and doors are being removed. Copper pipes are removed and sold for money to put something on the table.'
Ruda: 'Who is to blame?'
Lettie: 'Ruda, I won't point a finger because the community has a big role to play in this.'
They smell as bad as they look, but these toilets are not the worst we saw. The pupil toilet ratio has reached epic proportions at Bay View Primary - there are only three toilets left for 648 pupils. It's even worse at Emsengeni...
Teacher: 'We have approximately 780 learners and we have three working toilets.'
At Tinara High and Solomon Mahlangu there are no working toilets at all.
Journalist: 'Where do the children actually go to toilet?'
Teacher: 'The boys go to the fence.'
As for toilet paper... that's a luxury.
The average annual maintenance budget is R3 000 a year. One burst pipe, and it's blown.
Lettie: 'I don't think it's fair for us as a school and community to expect the department to keep putting money into an entity... where does the money go? It's like pouring water into a sieve.'
Ruda: 'If there are structures in place...'
Ruda: 'And if you are saying that things can happen, then why are there 13 schools, that we have found, that are in an absolutely appalling condition?'
Sam: 'There are factors that one needs to take into account here. On your priority list you have got 100 schools waiting to be attended to. Every time one school comes to you, you have to say to another one that I can't help you now because of these emergency repairs. And we have been saying it over and over again to schools: you get a chance, you get a second chance, you get a third chance... you will have to go right to the back of the list.'
In 2004, the provincial department under-spent in vital areas but over-spent on personnel, which meant infrastructure budgets were slashed by half.
Lwandile Funda (Head of Education Research: Public Service Accountability Monitor): 'There are no proper monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure that the department does not overspend.'
Lwandile Funda is Head of Education Research at Rhodes University's Public Service Accountability Monitor.
Lwandile: 'The department had an excess of 13 000 employees and yet, at the same time, [a] critical shortage in financial management staff and staff at district level.'
For 10 years in a row the auditor general has tabled a disclaimer for the provincial education department, which means he was unable to form an opinion from the documents supplied. His reports paint a gloomy picture of inept management, bad planning and unauthorised spending.
Sam: 'We do not have enough funds to see to many of our serious, serious problems. The only way to get over that is to approach the provincial treasury and ask them for a bigger cut of the provincial budget.'
Ruda: 'Why should the Eastern Cape give more money when the auditor general has been saying for nine years that you are not managing your finances correctly?'
Sam: 'When you talk about misspending, I don't believe that misspending equates to mismanagement.'
Ruda: 'Is the Eastern Cape specifically problematic?'
Duncan: 'Historically, the Eastern Cape has been a difficult province. Really, it has been a combination: on the one hand I think there has been political instability. We have seen a numberof MECs coming and going in the province. Also, on an administrative level, we have seen a number of different heads of department. So I think there is recognition within the province that they are dragging the country down, as it were, and that they need to get themselves together.'
Lettie: 'Ruda, teacher morale is very low, which you can understand.'
Lettie Fick's classroom used to look something like this... she spent her own money to make it inhabitable.
Lettie: 'Here and there one tries to buy windows, paint your classroom, but I think a teacher's task is education. At the end of the day, that's what we're here for.'
But there's no security to keep the gangs from trashing the school again.
Lettie: 'Our recommendation is that a fence be erected. If the fence is up, and we as a community make our school safe, then we are assured that our things are safe.'
Ruda: 'Everyone agrees that something needs to be done. The biggest argument seems to be around who is responsible for what. For example, this school obviously needs a fence, but who should pay for it?'
Duncan: 'Fences do not secure a school. You can build the highest fence that you want, but if vandals want to get into the school, they will. It is far more about communities taking ownership of a school and securing that school.'
The department decided that Dr Halbegaarn was beyond saving. The school, and the community, were given six months to turn things around, or see what doors were left close forever. Then local businessman James Ferreira stepped in.
James Ferreira: 'If we allow this to happen to this school then all the other schools will be the next target. In the end we'll have no schools.'
Ruda: 'Do you believe it can be saved?'
James: 'I believe so, and so do a lot of other people. However, we also believe that the department also has a role to play in this'
Sam: 'We have now decided that the school will continue. The first step will be to put palisade fencing around it to safeguard it from vandals.'
Ruda: 'So you have reversed your position then?'
Sam: 'My position has been reversed because of community pressure.'
Good news for Dr Habelgaarn, but a mere drop in the ocean of school needs.
Ruth: 'Pencils, ballpoints, rulers, books for them to write on, books for them to study.'
Lettie: 'Security, windows.'
Ruth: 'A library for every school.'
Lettie: 'An administration assistant.'
Ruth: 'A receptionist.'
Sam: 'A school should qualify, ideally, for at least two security persons - one for the day shift and one for the night shift. We just don't have the money at this point, but the planning has been done.'
Duncan: 'There is a new management team in the Eastern Cape. We are fairly confident now that they will be able to take the problems forward.'
Journalist: 'But what happens when you approach government... when you approach the department of education?'
Teacher: 'Promises, promises, promises.'
Teacher: 'I reported this about two years ago. They promise to come, they promise to come, but they never come.'
Journalist: 'Are government's promises... are they ever delivered on?'
Teacher: '[laughs] No.'
Duncan: 'Resources don't make either a good or bad school. It is a combination of resources of people, of leadership, of governance, of community, etc.'
Ruda: 'There is one township school where things are working. Molly Blackburn Senior Second School is outside Uitenhage, a community as poor as any other. But walk in here and you immediately realise that something is different.'
There's hardly a broken window in sight and while 96 percent of the parents are unemployed, matrics achieved a 93 percent pass rate and six distinctions last year. In the early days, the school was badly vandalised and ungovernable. Teacher Fundiswa Ngqono was there when it opened [in] 1991.
Fundiswa Ngqono (Teacher: Molly Blackburn): 'Things were very hectic. It was bad... it was... even if you wanted to go to school, when you woke up at home and wanted to go to school, you had to think twice.'
In 1993 Vuyisile Jonas took over the reins.
Vuyisile Jonas (Headmaster: Molly Blackburn): 'When I arrived here, there was no teaching and learning.'
Fundiswa: 'When he came here he made a very big difference. As you can see, now our school is the best in the area, because of him.'
Vuyisile: 'I said to teachers: if you are in front of a class, you must say 'these are my children'. And whatever you are doing, you must do it as if it is your own child.'
Ruda: 'Why is your school not vandalised, while all your neighbours are?'
Vuyisile: 'The parents are actively involved in our school, the learners are involved, even the community around is actively involved in our school. If a child breaks a window the parent must come and fix that window.'
The school uses prize money - like the R75 000 they won as Metro School of the Year - for maintenance and to build new facilities.
Ruda: 'What do you say to people who say: we can't do anything about the state of our school because our community is so poor and the department does not give us enough money?'
Vuyisile: 'You know, Molly Blackburn is where it is today because we took a decision as a school to say we want to teach these students equally with those who have everything. While it is important to have resources, but if you don't have them make it a point with what you have, you can produce. So the people can say: we had nothing but this is the pass rate we have with nothing.'
Ruda: 'What makes a difference? Why is this school different from its neighbours?'
Fundiswa: 'There is discipline from the learners. Educators and parents respect each other. And we follow the rules of the school.'
Ruda to Lettie: 'At present, do you have hope?'
Lettie: 'I have hope, Ruda, big hopes that we're on our way to better things.'
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.