Gauteng learners crammed into classrooms but department says there’s no crisis

Some learners are being taught under trees

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Five years after renovations were due to start at Thubelihle High School in Soweto, nothing has happened. Meanwhile learners are crammed into temporary classrooms. Photo: Chris Gilili

  • Learners at Thubelihle High School in Soweto are crammed into temporary classrooms, five years after renovations were promised.
  • This is one of many schools in Gauteng which are overcrowded, according to Equal Education (EE). EE says 30 schools still have to rotate classes as there is no room to teach the whole class at once.
  • But the Gauteng education department denies there is a crisis.

Learners at some schools in Gauteng are still sitting in overcrowded classrooms or learning under trees, but the Gauteng Department of Education says there’s no “crisis”.

In Thubelihle High School in White City, Soweto, learners are crammed into temporary classrooms and some are being taught under a tree. Thubelihle was started as a missionary school in the 1950s and, according to its website, was upgraded to be a full high school in 2015.

In May this year, frustrated parents shut down the school, complaining that renovations started more than five years ago had not been completed. In a statement in May, the Gauteng education department said R12-million had been allocated to renovate the school. Meanwhile, said the department, mobile classrooms would be delivered in May. But when GroundUp visited the school last week, some of the units were still being delivered. There is no sign of the renovation project; the brick classrooms are dilapidated, there are no windows, no roofs, and some have cracked walls.

Some learners were using the teachers’ staff room to study., others were walking around the school premises during teaching hours, and a Grade 11 class was being taught under a tree. The learners were sitting on chairs with their books on their laps.

The school still rotates the Grade 8 and Grade 9 classes, with one group attending for a week and another for the following week. A church building is used as another Grade 11 class to create more space. Learners use two standpipes for water.

Despite this, the school principal Donald Mkhengu said the school is performing well. “Given the challenge of overcrowding, we still try our best. I got to this school only in 2014. We didn’t have proper classes, and we got the temporary structures only recently.”

“There are just too many learners here,” said learner Siphiwo Ndlovu. “We feel trapped inside the temporary structures and they have broken windows. Even the toilets inside are indecent, they are dilapidated and a shame to use, but we have no choice,” said Ndlovu.

Nandi Khambule is the parent of a learner at the school. She says parents’ complaints about conditions at the school “all fall on deaf ears”.

Setumo Khiba High School in Mabopane was also shut down by learners in May. They were complaining about overcrowded classrooms, broken windows and lack of furniture.

When GroundUp visited the school, learners were sharing small desks in groups of three. The school toilets were filthy and broken, and doors had collapsed. The classrooms are tiny and were packed with learners. According to one student who did not want to be named, three mobile classrooms were brought to the school about two months ago to ease the overcrowding crisis. There are two standpipes for water.

Toilets at Setumo Khiba High School in Mabopane are broken. Photo: Chris Gilili

Spokesperson for the Gauteng education department Steve Mabona denied any “crisis” of overcrowding in schools in Gauteng. He didn’t answer questions about how many learners were in Thubelihle High School or Setumo Khiba High School, and did not say why the department was withholding information about overcrowding in schools.

“Where we experience an over-subscription of learners, we provide mobile classrooms and transfer funding to schools for building of additional classes,” said Mabona.

Equal Education (EE) says in Gauteng 30 schools are still having to rotate classes due to overcrowding. EE said it had requested a list of overcrowded schools and a plan from the Gauteng education department two months ago but the information had not been provided.

TOPICS:  Education

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