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19 new schools need to be built every year to end placement woes, says WCED

Pupils forced to learn under a tree in Forest Village. picture: Ayanda Ndamane African News Agency (ANA)

Pupils forced to learn under a tree in Forest Village. picture: Ayanda Ndamane African News Agency (ANA)

Published Dec 12, 2021


The Western Cape Education Department claims it will need to build 19 new schools a year to tackle the increasing number of pupils that need to be placed each

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With schools set to close on Tuesday, numerous parents in the province claim they have yet to have their children placed for the upcoming academic year – a problem that arises every year.

MEC for Education Debbie Schafer is expected to provide an overview on exactly how many pupils are unplaced in the province. At last count at least 29 500 pupils still need to find a school, the country’s third highest figure after Gauteng and Kwazulu Natal.

A frustrated parent from Blue Downs said the five schools she had applied to five schools for Grade R for her child next year, but was turned her down.

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Another parent Candice Barnard, 43, decided to homeschool her son after struggling with placements in the past. The Parow resident said with her family moving, she knew the hassle of applying to a new school in a new area would be a headache.

"I haven't even considered applying for my son to attend a public school. I know with having to apply there will be a whole lot of back and forth, and frankly, I don't have time to waste,“ she said.

“Not only is it a hassle with the schooling system but also a struggle because you have to basically teach your children yourself. They also have to most of the time learn their school work out of their own through means of technology.”

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Barnard added that her son, who was an achiever before Covid19, came back with low marks due to the type of learning.

“The education system during this pandemic is not only failing our kids but the teachers too, because they don't get the proper support and rest as they should,” she added.

“At the end of the day, every parent just wants a proper education for their children.”

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The department said over the last four years, 72 new schools which included mobile schools (containers) were built in the province to address the increase in the pupils – of which 10 were completed this year.

Of the 72, 41 replaced old schools, aimed to address the backlog in the replacement of old buildings some containing asbestos built in the apartheid era.

The province has 1 449 public schools, of which, 984 are primary and only 384 are high schools, a difference of 600 schools.

The rest of the 80 schools are intermediate or combined schools.

The department’s spokesperson Bronagh Hammond, said the challenge of unplaced pupils stemmed from the ongoing problem of late applications and an influx of applications from other provinces.

“By April 12, we received 102 216 unique learner applications (Grade 1-12). If we compare the November 23 statistics of unique applications to the 12 April statistics, it shows that 32 396 parents submitted late applications after 12 April, 2021,” she said.

According to the department, 6 155 late applications received were for Grade 8 and 16 863 for Grade 9.

Hammond said figures showed 24% of parents in the Western Cape applied well after the application process ended, while applications are also still being received to this very day.

Hammond said they also have to deal with the demand of placements for learners from other provinces.

“For example, in 2020, over 19 000 of new enrolments (first time registration) in the province, were from other provinces, of which over 15 000 learners were from the Eastern Cape.

“We would need to build 19 new schools every year. In addition, we would have to employ an approximate 525 additional educators to accommodate this growth.

“With regards to the next five years, the building of new and replacement schools will be budget dependent. It is also dependent on land availability and/or land invasions delaying processes. Covid-19 also had an impact on some projects. A number of mobile schools are planned for next year, however, we are waiting for approvals regarding Environmental Impact Assessments.”

But founder of Parents for Equal Education (Peesa), Vanessa Le Roux, whose organisation attempted but failed to take WCED to the Constitutional Court this year over unplaced pupils, said the entire application system was flawed.

“We deal with parents who struggle to access the online system, and also when they apply. Their application also doesn't go through and there's no reason why. This is why their applications are late and learners from other provinces get accepted,” she said.

“If you want to have such a system, you have to make parents aware of the criteria, as well as when they apply for placement. If an application is declined, the reason must be stated.”

Vanessa Le Roux says that the department knows what they are lacking in terms of improving the schooling system. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Le Roux said the department owes this to the many unplaced pupils.

“The problem is not with the parents. The problem is we don't have enough schools to accommodate our learners,” she added.

“The department has a responsibility to get proper education for our children.”

“There is also a shortage of teachers. This is a problem that has been coming for a while, so why not address it? They know what type of suggestions we’ve made; why not just look at it as a possible solution?”

Candice Barnard said she chose online learning because it is what her son is already doing. Pic:Supplied

While parents like Barnard opt for homeschooling, they are also urged to do their homework about this type of education thoroughly.

“There are a number of online schooling options on the market, and this offering has grown further as a result of Covid-19 and lockdowns,” said Colin Northmore, principal of Evolve Online School.

“But just as parents would do their homework before enrolling their child at a contact education institution, they should also ask the right questions before deciding on an online learning institution,” he added.

“Online schools have clearly differentiated offerings, and parents should take care to interrogate and clarify a school’s offering before enrolling. In particular, (they must) ensure that the curriculum is more than just ‘paper behind glass’.”

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