JOHN MARINGA is 25 and he is trying to write matric for the third time. He lost three years of schooling during the 1980s because of his anti-apartheid activism and has since twice written, and failed, the exam.
He pins his hopes on studying at the Tembisa Technical College on the East Rand, set up by the government in February to help disadvantaged pupils get through matric.
But the college’s opening was delayed by a month because of staff shortages and because there were no desks, no textbooks and no stationery.
The problems have continued, and led to pupil protests and a boycott of classes last month. The college reopened earlier this week after district education officials agreed to provide more staff.
Maringa is president of the college’s Students’ Representative Council. About half his fellow SRC members are older than the “normal” matric repeat age of 19. Ann Dejaars (23) and Yvonne Malema (21), for example, fell behind after family problems forced them to drop out of school for a couple of years.
The college is one of a handful in the country. It targets pupils up to the age of 30 who have failed matric because their schooling was poor, or because they spent much of their youth involved in the struggle against apartheid, or because they had to drop out to care for their families. A nominal fee of R30 is charged, against the average R2 000 fee in the private sector.
The Tembisa college is supposed to cater for less than 450 pupils, but an influx from across the country pushed the student body to nearly 900, and forced the introduction of eight new languages which had not been planned for.
There are seven full-time staff – technical teachers carried over from when the institution was previously a technical college – and 23 part-timers contracted to work only 10 hours a week.
The principal, Mthiane Mabanga, says the part-time teachers have been working longer hours, without pay, to meet pupils’ demands. But the teachers walked out last month, sparking the class boycott in demand for more staff.
Mabanga said he had warned Tembisa district education officials about the problems, with no response. “People are coming here from all nine provinces because there are not enough finishing schools,” he says.
“I don’t want to say, ‘You can only attend here if you come from Tembisa.’ Some people feel a finishing school is encouraging failure, but those of us who are here understand the pupils failed because their education lacked something. They have to be re-educated.”