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Vandals and storms damage schools, says education department

Children go back to school today (Monday), but 52 schools have been damaged by severe storms in recent weeks. 

Provincial departments have, however, made arrangements for learners at some of these schools to be accommodated in neighbouring schools. Others will be placed in mobile classrooms.

Fifty of the damaged schools are in the Eastern Cape, one is in Mpumalanga and another in the North West, according to a presentation on Sunday afternoon by basic education director general Mathanzima Mweli ahead of schools opening for the 2021 academic calendar on Monday. 

According to the presentation:
* Mpumalanga is still waiting for the delivery of mobile classrooms;
* North West has said that it has provided mobile classrooms to some schools and has asked other schools to accommodate some of the learners in their halls; and
* Eastern Cape has asked neighbouring schools to accommodate the learners.

Speaking at the same briefing, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the problem of opening of schools is not that schools do not have personal protective equipment (PPE), but that schools have been damaged by the storms and vandalism during the school holidays. 

“We have quite a huge number of schools that have been vandalised, let alone that we also had a problem with the weather. PPEs are not a challenge,” she said. 

Mweli said the storms had made roads inaccessible, which prevented some school management teams returning to school on 25 January.

Eighteen of these schools were in the Bohlabela and Ehlanzeni municipal districts in Mpumalanga. These areas were hit by tropical storm Eloise. Mweli said some of the places were declared national disaster areas and that the local and provincial governments would assist with finding places for learners.

The provincial departments have been advised to find alternative facilities to ensure no learners stay home. 

School admissions 

Another obstacle affecting learners is that more than 25 000 children in grade one and eight are yet to be placed in schools.  

According to Mweli’s presentation, 8 982 grade one learners are still to be placed in schools. The Western Cape still has to find schools for more than 2 400 learners; Limpopo, more than 1 800; North West, 1 276; and the Free State, 1 021. 

Of the 16 100 plus grade eight learners yet to find schools, 1 896 are in the Free State and 1 484 in Gauteng.

The provinces have blamed urban migration, parents wanting their children placed in their choice of school and shortage of land to build schools.

The provinces have confirmed that they will place learners by the end of February while Gauteng said it would conclude the process in March. 

“The Council of Education Ministers [the CEM] met yesterday, and the matter of school admission was identified as critical because the system cannot afford to see any learners being left behind,” said Motshekga. “It was agreed that provinces would work with speed to place all the learners in the next week. [The] CEM appeals to parents and guardians to cooperate with officials at the district level, to accelerate the placement process.”

Covid-19 fatalities and PPEs 

Mweli said: “We have been hard hit by the pandemic, particularly starting from November up to January. We have lost some of our educators and some of our very experienced and competent officials.”

Since March last year, 17 473 teachers have tested positive for Covid-19 and 1 169 have died. Motshekga said this year alone, up to last week Friday, 159 teachers have died.

The highest number of deaths of teachers was in Eastern Cape (533), followed by KwaZulu-Natal (196), Limpopo (157) and Western Cape (104). 

According to Mweli, all provinces have said that they have adequate PPEs for teachers and learners.

He said provincial departments have had to use money allocated for infrastructure to provide Covid-19 essentials, because of the fiscal challenges. 

Only Gauteng provided numbers for how many masks, face shields and sanitiser units that it had provided to schools. The Northern Cape said it would only procure masks for grade one and eight learners this year, while the Western Cape said it would only provide grade one learners with masks because the other grades were supplied with masks last year. 

Matric examination irregularities 

An investigation into the leaking of two 2020 matric exam papers, maths and physical science paper two, found that it was not widespread and the 2020 National Senior Certificate examination had not been compromised, according to Luvuyo Bono, the chairperson of the National Examinations Irregularities Committee and Hugh Amoore, chairperson of the National Investigations Task Team. 

The two papers were leaked hours before they were written and earlier investigations found that they were distributed on WhatsApp. 

The department then said that both papers had to be rewritten to protect the integrity of the examination. But individual learners and the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union took the matter to court to ask that the decision be set aside. The court granted the order.

On Sunday, Amoore said that although the investigation found the examination was not compromised, some of the learners’ results will be withheld for further investigations. 

The department presented the report to quality assurer Umalusi on Friday and it is expected to provide the results on Monday.

Motshekga is expected to release the national matric results on 22 February.

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

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