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Thousands of schoolgoers left stranded

Stubborn parents and migration have seen thousands of students without schools at the beginning of the school year — with more than 39 000 pupils in Gauteng and the Western Cape not yet placed in schools.

On Tuesday, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi announced that 28 435 grade one and eight pupils had still not been placed in schools.

The Western Cape’s spokesperson, Jessica Shelver, said they had to still place more than 11 000 pupils, with about 7 000 pupils in grades one and eight. In both provinces the bottleneck seems to have been caused by parents who have school preferences that they refuse to change.

Both provinces said it was unfortunate that parents wanted to be placed in schools of their choice even though there was no space for their children at these schools.

Lesufi said the majority of the pupils who had not been placed but applied on time were those whose parents had applied in high pressure areas where there is shortage of space.

In Gauteng, parents had declined alternative offers of placement in schools. Since the introduction of the online application for grade one and eight pupils in 2016, Gauteng has experienced glitches in placing pupils on time. This also applied to pupils who applied on time.

At the start of the academic year last year, the province had still not placed over 50 000 pupils in schools. Some of the pupils were placed in schools as late as March 2017. It is likely that pupils who have not yet been placed will suffer the same fate.

In the Western Cape, Shelver said no parents would be “guaranteed their first school of choice” and that parents would be referred to schools where there was still space.

“More than 130 000 learners have moved to the Western Cape from other provinces over the past five years, mainly from the Eastern Cape, placing the education system in the Western Cape under considerable pressure,” said Shelver. “The challenge arises when people move to the province without planning in advance or without enrolling their children at a school. It therefore makes it impossible for the education department to foresee and plan accordingly.”

The migration of pupils continues to put pressure on the two economically large provinces as they have to ensure that these pupils are placed in schools and cannot turn them away. In a parliamentary reply last year the minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, said the move by pupils to other provinces had a negative impact as the pupils arrive in January and March when provincial departments have long made arrangements for the new year.

“They place a huge pressure on the receiving province to accommodate them and provide all the necessary resources and support. The financial impact and cost to the provincial education department is huge as this is not factored into the norms and standards allocation,” said Motshekga.

She revealed that from 2013 to 2017 there were 99 050 pupils from the Eastern Cape who moved to the Western Cape. The second largest number of pupils that migrated to Western Cape came from other countries and from 2013 to 2017 the figure was 9 395.

According to the Gauteng department of education from 2013 to 2016 the majority of new pupils in the province were from Limpopo, with more than 20 000 new entrants each year.

Last year more than 23 000 pupils came from the North West, while there were about 17 000 from Limpopo. Pupils from foreign countries made up just over 20 000 of the school intake last year.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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