Angry parents close primary school

Far too few teachers for number of students

Photo of a road and a school in the background

Astra Primary School in Bethelsdorp is closed after parents burnt tyres. Photo: Joseph Chirume

By Joseph Chirume

25 July 2016

Astra Primary School in Bethelsdorp near Port Elizabeth was closed last week by angry parents who shut the school gates, picketed and burned tyres. They are demanding the provision of ten more teachers.

Currently, the school has 1,128 students and 22 teachers, a ratio of more than 50 to a class, assuming every teacher teaches in every period.

Acting principal Desmond Lewis said the school held a meeting with parents on 19 July to tell them they needed ten more teachers. “The parents then decided to close down the school until the situation is resolved … We had hired four teachers last year because as a school we felt we needed more teachers for slow learners. These were being paid [for] by the parents from donations and fundraising.”

Astra Primary is a no-fees school. Lewis explained that because staff members retire and others go on maternity and sick leave, the school had six more vacancies that the department had approved. 

“The school was paying for ten teachers. It was very painful to explain this to the parents. Now the school can no longer afford to pay these teachers. Our coffers are dry.

“The crisis started years ago, but this time it’s unfortunate that our funds got dry. We informed the concerned teachers in June that their contracts wouldn’t be renewed as the school had no money to pay them.”

A spokesperson for the Eastern Cape education department, Malibongwe Mtima, said the department was aware of the situation, but differed on the number of teachers needed.

“We are busy sorting out the problem at the school. There is a shortage of six teachers not ten. The school should have approached the department on time. Because of maternity leave, sick leave and retirement, schools always face such teacher crises.

“We have approved a grade R foundation phase teacher for the school. The outstanding salary for one teacher has been paid this week. We are in the process of finalising the post of head of department, and that of the deputy principal posts. We even gave the school the go-ahead to fill in the[se] vacancies. The problem is the school delayed to apply for substitute teachers.”

But Lewis says the department knew long ago about the critical staff shortage.

One parent, Alphus Wolmarans, said, “I have two stepchildren attending school there. We have had several meetings concerning this issue. The only thing is to close the school down. I don’t like that route, but there’s no option.”

On Monday morning, at a meeting between the principal and the parents, it was decided to keep the school shut.