By ANNA MAJAVU
Parents and learners have shut down the Riebeeck East Combined School over the dire shortage of educators.
The shutdown started on 19 January and will continue until the Eastern Cape education department appoints more educators, parents say.
The small school of 93 learners, 42 kilometres away from Makhanda, has just three educators who teach all nine grades. One educator teaches Grades 1, 2, and 3 in the same classroom. The other two educators teach Grades 3-9. The school principal doubles up as a third educator.
A parent who did not want to be named said it was impossible for one foundation phase teacher to provide quality education to a combined class of Grade 1s, 2s and 3s. The parent added that only one educator at the school was qualified to teach the intermediate phase (Grades 4-6). The other educator, qualified to teach the senior phase (Grades 7-9), also has to teach intermediate pupils.
No English, isiXhosa, EMS, Creative Arts, or Life Skills teachers for many pupils
“In Grades 4, 5, and 6, there is no educator for English or isiXhosa or Life Skills. In Grades 7-9, there is no Economic and Management Sciences or Creative Arts educator. So they cannot cover the curriculum,” said the source.
“With the scenario we are painting to you, this school will never achieve effective and quality education because the educators have to teach subjects they were never trained to teach. And you should never mess with your foundation phase. With only one educator in the foundation phase, will you ever do justice there?” the source added.
School staff said the Eastern Cape education department prohibited them from speaking to the media.
School governing body member Ntombentsha Jeyi told Grocott’s Mail, “It’s a strike here. Our councillors have been to Bhisho to report this formally to the education department in the past, but we received no solution. It has been years that we have had this struggle”.
Jeyi said the community already had to send Grade 10, 11, and Matric learners to public schools in Makhanda, 42 kilometres away, because of the educator shortage. But the three educators could still not teach all the subjects in the curriculum for nine grades.
She said the provincial education department now ignores their phone calls.
Provincial education department will not budge
Provincial education department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima insisted that the department was not ignoring the school. He said, however, that the department would not deviate from its post-provisioning norms, known as the “Peter Morkel Model”. This policy sets out a high ratio of learners to teachers – over the years, this ratio has varied between 35 – 40 learners per educator.
The model has been widely criticised for years by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) for creating overcrowded classrooms that “marginalise the working class and poor” who cannot afford to pay fees at private schools with smaller class sizes.
It is also unclear if the department is still applying the learner-teacher ratio consistently – last year, Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga told The Star newspaper that it was not policy and was only ever meant to cap the maximum number of learners per class.
But Mtima maintained that the model remained in place and only allowed the department to hire one educator for every 38 learners. If an exception were made for Riebeeck East Combined School, the education department would be in danger of “creating a banana republic”, he said.
“The fact that they have many grades does not disqualify them from the policy. We give educators based on the learner numbers. If you want to change the policy, go to Parliament. All we are doing is implementing the policy,” Mtima told Grocott’s Mail.
Temporary educators are no solution
The annual strikes waste valuable teaching time at the start of every school year, but parents say it is the only way for the school to get the attention of the education department. This is temporary though – last year, the school allocated two additional educators following the strike, but these educators were only given temporary contracts that ended last month.
The parents are hoping for additional permanent educators. Bringing in contract teachers “creates instability in the school because we are not always fortunate to get them back when the department decides to give us temporary educators again,” the source added.
The number of unemployed qualified educators in the Eastern Cape is unknown. The province’s private Facebook group of unemployed educators has 9 400 members. The Eastern Cape Unemployed and Resigned Educators Movement organised a march in October 2022 of about 100 unemployed educators who now sell sweets on the side of the road or style hair in salons after unsuccessfully searching for teaching jobs.
Riebeeck East is an isolated town where working-class communities live in KwaNomzamo township in derelict conditions. In 2020, four-year-old Lisakhona Bouwer was crushed to death when a steel jungle gym fell on him.