Fading away from neglect

“Teaching as a profession in South Africa is fading. It is a worrying factor. Where do we go wrong? Without education no country will survive!”

These were the concluding remarks made by Eastern Cape education MEC Nomsa Jajula at a public function in May.

But a look at the atrocious conditions and fraught education systems in many rural schools in the province, particularly in areas in the former Transkei, provide part of the answer to Jajula’s question, ‘Where do we go wrong?”.

One school that exemplifies the dire situation learners and teachers struggle with is in the Tsolo district, 55kms from Umtata. Pitched on a hill in Mtonyameni village, Mqobiso Junior Secondary School is little more than a dilapidated shack that serves as a classroom by day and as a kraal for goats by night.

Twisted sheets of metal - remnants from the 1998 tornado that demolished the entire 10-classroom school - dangerously hang together to make up the ‘school”.

The 420 pupils and six teachers at Mqobiso are having to go it alone in these shoddy conditions: the last time the school’s register was signed by district education officials was back in 2000.

While the reason for district officials not visiting the most rurally located schools is often reported to be inaccessible roads, this cannot be the reason for the neglect of Mqobiso, which has roads that may be badly maintained but are still accessible by ordinary car.

In fact, the picture drawn by a number of schools visited in these rural areas by the Teacher is that district officials merely sit in their air-conditioned offices and seldom do anything constructive.

Education communications director Danie Breytenbach admits there were district officers, especially in rural areas, who were ‘not pulling their weight” and needed to be ‘reprimanded by the district managers ... if not eradicated”.

He calls on principals, whose problems were not effectively being dealt with at district level, to report their dissatisfaction directly to the education MEC’s office in Bisho.

But the provincial education system seems as short of answers about the failure of its personnel to do their jobs as it is about the appalling conditions under which so many struggle with the task of education.

A number of rural schools, visited by the Teacher, operating without electricity, water and functional toilets, are managed by committed teachers - many of whom often go without pay because of bureaucratic bungling.

Breytenbach says they are aware of these problems -

problems, that he says, were created under apartheid through segregated schools that now had to be merged under one provincial education department.

Ongoing efforts to alleviate some of the backlogs include

building 21 248 classrooms since 1995, leaving just 14 000 to go.

Breytenbach added that R79-million has been allocated for this financial year to repair schools and R56-million for furniture and that the Mqobiso Junior Secondary ‘only needs to register their need with the department”.

Mqobiso principal Nimrod Mcotshana, however, says he had repeatedly registered the need for new classrooms with the department but that no action has resulted.

While the education department in Bisho struggles to find answers to the issue of non-accountability among its functionaries and the state of disrepair of many schools, children in these areas continue to have their constitutional right to basic education compromised. Archive