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Poorly performing schools ‘slip through the cracks’

Teachers arriving late, classrooms without doors and apartheid-era textbooks make up Eastern Cape pupil Wesley Moutloali's daily school experience.

The 20-year-old grade 11 pupil at the province's remote Moshesh Senior Secondary School spoke to the Mail & Guardian this week about the "big problems in our school that lead us to fail [and] destroy our lives and future".

His school in Queen's Mercy, about 30km west of Matatiele, had "old buildings with no windows, no doors and a loose roof", he said. About 400 pupils share the only two working toilets, there are no fences "and animals are walking around".

Moutloali attended this week's Equal Education national congress in Johannesburg. About a month ago he contacted the non-governmental organisation, which launched legal action regarding national school infrastructure in March.

But not all the daily learning ­difficulties he described centred on the school's appalling physical ­conditions. Teachers arrived late for lessons and left early and the school's principal had not been at school for nine months, he said.

Matric pupils sleep at the school in the months before their exams to do much-needed revision. But "the doors don't lock and it is unsafe and they are vulnerable to things like rape".

Textbooks from the eighties
Some textbooks are out of date by decades: "My biology textbook is from 1986," Moutloali said.

Classes often start late, if at all. "If you have a life sciences [class] at 8am, you know the teacher won't be there so you won't go to school then, you will only go later," he said. There is also a severe shortage of teachers. "Three teachers are getting paid but don't come to school," he said.

This year the school asked pupils to contribute R200 each for the hiring of temporary teachers. They paid up — but no temporary teachers arrived, Moutloali said.

Equal Education's Kathryn Schneider said some of its members had visited the school two weeks ago and advised pupils and community members how to remedy the school's "terrible circumstances". The organisation enabled Moutloali and another Moshesh pupil, Leweshe Ramoeletsi, to join more than 300 delegates at its congress this week.

Queen's Mercy was "an isolated town", said Equal Education member Lumkile Zani. "Physical distance is a big problem. District offices should be monitoring schools like this, but they slip through the cracks."

The organisation has written to provincial education minister Mandla Makupula and the local district office about the school, but has not yet received a response. The Eastern Cape education department could not comment on Wednesday and the M&G was unable to track down the allegedly absentee principal.

In its application to the Bhisho High Court in March, Equal Education asked the court to order Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to publish minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure. A date is yet to be set for the case to be heard.

At its congress this week, Equal Education called for a judicial commission of enquiry into the Limpopo textbook crisis. It also demanded that no new contracts be entered into with textbook delivery company EduSolutions and workbook procurement companies Lebone Group and Lebone Litho.

The congress deliberated on the need for a "national education crisis committee" and whether Motshekga and director general Bobby Soobrayan had to "be removed".

But more immediately, matric exams loom for Moutloali's school and prospects look bleak. For the past eight years only a third of matrics have passed. And in his own grade 11 class of 68 pupils, 14 have already dropped out "because it's so bad".

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Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.

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