Schools in crisis

KAREN KOTZE

In response to complaints about critical levels of overcrowding in Ocean View schools, the Education MEC Debbie Schäfer will be visiting four schools in person to take stock of the situation.

Her visit is scheduled for Friday June 3, and was confirmed by her spokesperson Jessica Shelver.

Yaghya Chothia, principal of Kleinberg Primary School, is delighted with Ms Schäfer’s planned visit to the four schools in Ocean View. “We need to work together to find a way forward,” he said.

Johann Kikillus of Soteria Ministries has agitated for answers, saying he has been asking the WCED for help since 2014, and believes there is a direct link between overcrowding at the schools and the steep increase in school truancy.

Mr Kikillus said many of the children who are slipping between the cracks in the education system are ending up as new recruits in youth gangs, selling drugs.

He has recently encountered a Grade 1 child drop out of school, and a 16-year-old who could not read and write, he said.

“Children who are emotionally or academically challenged are just lost in the cracks. They may have ADD or ADHD, they may be dyslexic: or maybe they have recently seen someone they know gunned down. That aside – if we can even put that aside – in some classes there are up to 60 kids,” he said.

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The national standard states 37 as a maximum in each class.

“More to the point, these schools were built in the 70s for 750 children. We now have 3 700 pupils overall. There are 2 504 pupils, shared between two primary schools. Marine Primary has 1 357 pupils, in a space designed for 750, and Kleinberg Primary has 1 142 pupils – and desperately needs three extra mobile classrooms.

Incidentally, the last work Kleinberg had done to it was in 1981. The high school has 1 195 pupils,” he says.

Mr Kikillus is leading the call for constructive change in Ocean View and is fed up with what he calls non-answers from Western Cape Education Department, local government and the Premier’s office.

“Compare those figures to this: in Fish Hoek there are 2 583 pupils, shared between four schools. The high school has 1 008 pupils, and is full,” he said.

He asks where the primary school children are expected to go to high school.

He questions why, in a community plagued by gangs, there has been no visible constructive effort to secure the safety of the pupils, as opposed to the school buildings.

“In a response to these questions, I received a letter from the Premier’s office saying that the WCED does not have the funding to provide for comprehensive safety at all our schools. I’m not asking for all the schools, only those schools who have had shootings and attacks. That is four schools, in Ocean View.”

The response from the Premier’s office to Mr Kikillus further said that funding was given to Ocean View High for repairs to the school’s fencing and that the school is part of a holiday security programme. It was identified as a core security mechanism school and R8 5000 was given to the school, to put up stone guards to protect windows.

The Premier’s office said Marine Primary had been given R80 000 for stone guards, and that Kleinberg Primary had also been given R80 000 for an alarm system and stone guards to protect the windows.

“Well, that’s protecting windows. Now, what about our children?” asked Mr Kikillus.

Mr Kikillus is asking for learning support teachers to help the struggling pupils cope with academic, physical and psychological pressures of their community.

“In one class I spoke to, 30 children knew some-one who had recently been killed. Twenty-five in that class had seen somebody shot dead in front of them.”

While the Premier acknowledged in her correspondence with Mr Kikillus that there are on average 50 and 46 learners in the grade 6 and 7 classes in Ocean View, she said that the WCED circuit manager had not received any complaints from the principals.

Fariq Salie, president of the Progressive Principals’ Association’s southern area said he hadn’t received complaints about overcrowding in Ocean View schools before the Echo enquired about it.

He urged all the principals in the area to speak out and to write to the authorities to ensure that the matter is addressed immediately. “They, and their children are bearing the brunt of this, and it is not necessary. Those numbers do no good for education,” he said. Mr Salie said he would raise this matter when PPA have their meeting with Ms Schafer. This meeting was scheduled for yesterday, Wednesday May 25.

With regards to truancy, a huge bugbear for Mr Kikillus, Mr Salie confirmed that a child will be de-registered from school after 10 consecutive days of absenteeism.

Re-registration requires a trip to the District Office to negotiate with the school to take the child back. Mr Kikillus said he does this for some parents who either cannot take the time off work, or for children whose parents are addicts and simply won’t bother to re-register their child.

Without being registered, the child cannot legally attend school.

On January 27 this year, Mr Kikillus took to Ms Schafer a list of 85 children he had found within one hour of walking the streets; these were 85 children meant to be in school.

“I asked for a truancy officer, was given name and email address of one – who never appeared,” he said.

Ms Shelver said in response to the many queries raised: “We are aware of the many challenges that we face in the Ocean View area. Our district officials are aware of the challenges and are working towards a solution. They work very closely with schools in the area to support them.

“Challenges that the WCED face include high numbers of learners migrating to the area from other provinces, as well as the Western Cape. In particular, the area around Masiphumelele has experienced large growth in numbers and seen an influx of learners from other provinces. “

Ms Shelver added that: “Following the minister’s visit to the schools next week, we will be in a better place to respond.”