Pupils back to mud school as education department fails to keep promise

2020-01-21 01:30

Parents and teachers disappointed that provincial department of education has not kept its promise to build new classrooms by the time schools reopened last week.

Awethu Mahlangeni wants to be a nurse when she grows up, but her dreams could be shattered because the department of education has failed her and her schoolmates.

Awethu (10), is one of 250 pupils at Mcheni Senior Primary School in Tsolo in the Eastern Cape.

Their mud school is so dilapidated that it poses a serious danger to both pupils and teachers.

Over the years, pleas for a better school to the Eastern Cape department of education by teachers and the school governing body (SGB) have fallen on deaf ears.

City Press reported last September how R7 million was wasted on the construction of a new school building which is already falling apart because it was built on an unsuitable site.

The partially completed building, which was supposed to be a state-of-the-art structure, is adjacent to the old dilapidated one and its classrooms are collapsing.

After City Press visited the school last year, the department promised to provide temporary prefabricated structures to accommodate the pupils while a new site to build the school was being identified.

But on Wednesday, as schools reopened, Mcheni Senior Primary School pupils found themselves in the same situation they have been in since the school was established in 1994 – dilapidated classrooms.

Young Awethu yearns for a proper school with toilets, running water and a library – the most basic things children everywhere deserve.

At the moment, pupils and teachers relieve themselves in the open veld. They share drinking water with animals. The mud walls have cracks and are collapsing. The floors are ruined and there are exposed electricity cables hanging over their heads, endangering their lives.

Read: This mud school is a disaster waiting to happen but government ignores pleas for help

Windows and doors are broken and, in most cases, there are no windowpanes. Other pupils use corrugated zinc shacks as their classrooms. The shacks are also broken and have no doors or windows.

When the weather is bad, teachers are forced to send the children back home for their own safety.

Awethu, who is in Grade 3, said it broke her heart to learn under such horrible conditions.

“I am very unhappy because my school looks so bad. We are not safe in this school and our teachers are not safe too. We are pleading with government to please build us a new proper school which has toilets, [running] water and a library,” she said.

Awethu said she wants to be a nurse so that she can take care of people in her community.

Awethu Mahlangeni, a Grade 3 pupil at Mcheni Senior Primary School, feels her dream of becoming a nurse is in jeopardy because the school facilities are so poor. Picture: Lubabalo Ngcukana

Mzimeli Yelo, chairperson of the SGB at Mcheni, said he was very disappointed with the department of education for ignoring their numerous pleas for help.

Yelo, whose 10-year-old son Siphosethu is in Grade 4 at the school, said it was unacceptable that, so many years after democracy, there were still schools in such a terrible state. He said it was even more disappointing that the department failed to deliver on its promise to provide classrooms, he said.

When City Press visited the school on Wednesday, a truck was delivering the materials for the temporary structures. Incomplete prefabricated structures could be seen on the ground.

“The department promised us that when the school reopened this month the pupils would be using the prefabricated classrooms.

“But, as you can see, the pupils are still using the old mud structures which are a real danger to their lives and to the lives of their teachers,” Yelo said.

“Pupils are sometimes forced to learn outside in the heat, which is really upsetting. We find this situation unacceptable from our government,” he said.

Nosibulele Mbalekwa, a parent with two children at the school – Ezile (11) in Grade 6 and Esihle (9) in Grade 5 – said if she had a choice she would take them to a different school. But the nearest school is in another village 7km away, which is too for.

“Government seems not to care about the future of our children. Our children have been neglected. What have we done to deserve this kind of treatment from our government?

“We have been calling on the department to build this school, but, to our surprise, when they did so, they built the school on an unsuitable site.

Read: Schools desperate for decent toilets after using same ones since 1976

“This has resulted in the structure collapsing and taxpayers’ money going down the drain,” said Mbalekwa, who is also the secretary of the SGB.

City Press has seen several letters written by the SGB, teachers and the school principal asking for help. One letter from teachers reads: “Our school is more than 32km from town. We are using water from the river, which is seriously polluted. No one can stand this bad situation.”

Yelo said the department had ignored their pleas for years and only acted when the matter was exposed in the media.

Last year, the department confirmed that it was aware of the dire situation at the school.

Spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said in 2013 the estimated cost for the project was R17 million. He said R7 million had already been spent when it was discovered that the land on which the school was being built was unsuitable.

This week Pulumani said they had delivered on their promise to provide four of the eight prefabricated classrooms promised last year. He said these had been delivered by January 13 and the rest would be done by January 31. “At no stage was there any expectation by the stakeholders that, on the first day of the academic year, the school would be running from the new premises,” Pulumani said.

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February 23 2020