By Gcina Ntsaluba
It’s an accepted fact that, for various reasons, the national basic education department is under-performing, and the ones who stand to lose the most are the children. The lack of furniture at Eastern Cape schools, particularly, is one of the major problems crippling learners and teachers, mostly in rural schools in the province.
These neglected schools are in dire need of chairs and desks, and pupils have had to resort to sitting on whatever they can find – concrete blocks, empty two-litre drums and broken chairs and desks.
The province’s ailing education department finds itself in a desperate position – following an interdict handed down in the Mthatha High Court – as it tries to resolve the situation. As a result it has spent millions this year on much-needed school supplies, and has secured R50-million from the national treasury for the additional procurement of furniture next year that could help thousands of schoolchildren throughout the province.
Macosa Junior Secondary School
Macosa Junior Secondary School in Mqanduli near Mthatha is one of the neglected schools visited by Corruption Watch. The school urgently needs an intervention because, like other schools in the area, Macosa’s lack of infrastructure is frightening.
Corruption Watch was alerted to Macosa’s dire situation following a tip-off from a concerned citizen who viewed the lack of infrastructure at the school as a red flag for corruption. We receive dozens of reports every month via our various channels, alleging corruption in schools. Sometimes, however, the situation is not one of outright corruption, but rather of mismanagement, incompetence, lack of accountability, lack of transparency, or failure to transfer funds.
These situations, which can result in the waste of public money or resources, are also of great concern to Corruption Watch, although they don’t fall within our mandate to investigate.
Twenty-three years with no new furniture
Macosa has almost 500 pupils from poverty stricken communities. According to the principal, Mrs Siko, the school has not received furniture from the department of education since 1990 when she first started teaching there, and now what furniture remains is 23 years old and falling apart. A committed teacher, she said the conditions at the school were so bad that she was ashamed to see her learners suffering.
They sit on concrete bricks and make-shift broken chairs. The desks are falling apart. There are no proper toilets and the school buildings need a fresh coat of paint.
Earlier this month, the principal wrote a chilling letter to the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE) begging it to give the school old furniture.
“Although we are an old school but for the past 23 years, we never received any type of furniture….hence we humbly write this letter to ask you if you can’t help us with your old furniture,” she pleaded.
‘We cannot even specify as to say tables, cupboards or chairs because we are just in dire need of any piece of furniture,” she wrote.
Ensuring that learner’s needs are met
Loyiso Pulumani, spokesperson for the department, said it sympathised with the schoolchildren of Macosa, and is working hard to try to change the situation.
Pulumani said since the court interdict, the ECDOE has embarked on an audit of furniture needs at every public school in the province, to ensure it meets learners’ demands and complies with the ruling handed down by the court.
He said as a result of the September 2013 court order reached between the department and the Legal Resources Centre, a human rights organisation, the department has agreed to revise its furniture needs audit.
This also allows teachers and principals to directly give input if their requirements are not catered for in the audit, which is available for scrutiny on the department's website.
Schools finally getting help
Pulumani said this year the department had already bought and delivered furniture worth R30-million to some of the schools on the priority list and an additional R50-million has been allocated by the treasury to additional procurement of furniture.
A 2011 audit of furniture needs in the province found that more than half-a-million children at Eastern Cape schools needed furniture and that about R270-million would be required to address the shortages.
According to the current audit results, Macosa needs 566 units of furniture including desks and chairs.
But when asked by Corruption Watch if she was aware that the department had conducted an audit on Macosa, Principal Siko said she knew nothing of the matter, hence she wrote the letter to the department on 1 November 2013.
She said the court order was not only a small victory for her learners but for the thousands of other learners throughout the province.