NCape education department delivers classrooms cut in half

A group of Northern Cape pupils whose school was closed down last year because of asbestos pollution, have been dealt a second blow, rights organisation Section27 said this week.

The temporary mobile classrooms they were promised by government did not arrive by the time the new school year started and some of them are now learning under trees.

“When pupils arrived for the new school year on January 21, they found nothing but two separate halves of a single mobile classroom, with most of its windows broken, in the dusty yard,” Section27 said in a statement released on Monday.

This is what the pupils saw when they arrived on their first day back at school

The province’s department of labour closed Khiba Junior Secondary School, which is in the JT Gaetsewe District, late last year. 

Section27 said the extent of the asbestos pollution had been described in a 2006 department of environmental affairs report but this was “ignored by authorities in the Northern Cape until the school’s governing body, having fought for the rights of the pupils and teachers at the school for years without success, turned to Section27 for legal assistance”.

In response to the organisation’s threat of legal action last year the province’s education department compiled a plan for the school. This included delivering five mobile classrooms to a neighbouring school, Ga-Mopedi Primary School, by the start of the new school year for the pupils to use pending construction of a new school at a safe site.

But this is not what the pupils and their teachers found on their first day back at school. Instead, this is what they found:

“The pupils and their disappointed teachers set about carrying the desks, chairs, books and other equipment from the Khiba building to their temporary classrooms," Section27’s statement said.

“No transport was provided for this purpose.” The two schools are about 250 metres apart.

The organisation said 94 grade eight pupils were squeezed into one available classroom at Ga-Mopedi Primary School, 63 grade nine pupils tried to learn in another available classroom, and 61 grade 10 pupils occupied the mobile classroom halves, which had been placed one meter apart but not joined by the service provider who delivered them. 

Sasha Stevenson, attorney at Section27, told the Mail & Guardian that the school “was then informed by the service provider on Tuesday that the half-mobile classrooms were not safe for use, so the grade 10 learners were sent home”.

She said on Wednesday and Thursday that the grade 10 pupils were being taught under trees, “because that is how committed the pupils and their teachers are to their education”.

A parent and school governing body member, Susan Kebadehetse Seochwareng, told the M&G that she and other parents “were surprised that the department had not held up their end”. 

“We feel helpless. We have a responsibility to our children. The two temporary classes provided by Ga-Mopedi are so crowded. It is not a conducive place for learning to take place.”

Stevenson said on Thursday that "the promised mobile classrooms are finally arriving in dribs and drabs”. 

On Tuesday, a service provider had delivered two “flat-packed” mobile classrooms but did not assemble them. 

“On Thursday, the service provider began assembling the flat-packed classrooms but there was still no response from the education department on anything and no official has visited the school since the beginning of the year”.

The department did not respond to the M&G’s questions either.

Seochwareng said the department’s slow action “is not only affecting our pupils, who will surely fall behind on their school work but it is also demoralizing for the teachers”. 

“We also want to know how long the department plans for these children to stay in these mobile classrooms. When will the school be built? The teachers are disgruntled and feel like the government doesn’t care about them and the needs of their pupils.”

Stevenson said the failure of the department “to comply with its undertaking to provide usable mobile classrooms for the learners and educators at Khiba is a clear and direct violation of the Constitutional right of learners to basic education”. 

She said Section27 will continue to demand the realization of the rights of pupils at Khiba and "engage with the department, through the means necessary, on both the delivery of mobile classrooms and the construction of a permanent school".

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