Education

Principals complain of uncomfortable prefabs

Bongani Nkosi

The Gauteng education department appears to be battling with the demand for more school classrooms caused by high migration rates into the province.

Prefabricated classrooms are proliferating in Gauteng as pupil numbers  soar, but principals say they hamper learning. (Delwyn Verasamy, MG)

The proliferation of prefabricated classrooms in Gauteng bears witness to the provincial education department's failure yet again to prepare adequately for the annual growth in pupil numbers, principals and activists in ­Johannesburg told the Mail & Guardian.

In a two-day survey this week, the M&G counted nearly 40 prefab classrooms at 14 schools across five Gauteng communities it visited.

An Eldorado Park principal who asked not be named said the corrugated iron "containers" started "flooding" the township's schools five years ago when the number of pupils applying for places increased.

But the structures have a "negative impact on both learning and teaching" because they are uncomfortable, said the principal.

Temperature control
They are very hot in summer and cold in winter, she said. "It's excessively cold during winter. During the first two periods, children freeze to the extent that they cannot write."

Eldorado Park Secondary and Eldomaine Primary schools, located along the township's main road, have eight prefabs between them. "[Eldorado Park schools] have been getting extra containers for years," said the principal.

Historically, Eldorado Park has never had enough schools and population growth in the area and surrounding communities continues to put pressure on existing schools, she said. "There should be a new school in Eldorado Park."

Hope Malgas, the chairperson of Parliament's portfolio committee on basic education, told the house early last year that prefabricated schools needed to be considered inappropriate structures given their short lifespan.

In October 2011, then grade R pupil Lewis Wynne had both his legs amputated after a fallen tree crushed his prefab classroom at Carter Primary School in Alexandra.

The largest number of prefab classrooms the M&G noted this week were at the Moses Maren Mission, a technical secondary school outside Lenasia.

The school has 10 prefabs and neighbouring Olifantsvlei Primary has two. Bhayzer Miya, a community activist in Thembelihle, an informal settlement in Lenasia, said the structures at Moses Maren had accumulated over the years.

A 10-year problem
Miya lashed out at the provincial department for not building enough new schools for Lenasia's ­communities. "We have experienced problems with admissions for 10 years.

Each year, we have pupils who battle to find schools." Though "the containers are better than nothing" because they accommodate "stranded" pupils, Miya said a new school should have been built already. "Instead of building schools, the department takes shortcuts and supplies containers."

This week, many pupils in Thembelihle remained unplaced in any school, Miya said. All three primary schools in Lenasia now have four prefab structures between them, but Miya believed at least one more would be supplied.

Schools have one of two options: either to accept the prefabs or increase pupil/teacher ratios by packing even more into existing classrooms. Even relatively well-off schools can be affected. The M&G counted eight prefabs at Berea Primary.

But a principal in Alexandra whose school also has prefabs said there were benefits to accepting the structures. "The more classes you have, the more teachers you get; [that is] the positive." The department distributed 2 000 prefabs in 2011 alone.

But the structures are not a makeshift intervention, spokesperson Charles Phahlane said. "These classrooms meet the [South African Bureau of Standards] quality measures.

They are well insulated and have a life span of about 30 years. They are not temporary structures," said Phahlane. Given "the high rate of migration to the province", Gauteng has a backlog of nearly 200 schools. It has formed partnerships "to speed up the building of new schools," said Phahlane.


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