Cape Town - As another academic year draws to a close, many parents in the Western Cape are at their wits end as more than 29500 children have not been admitted to schools for 2022.
The number of unplaced children in the Western Cape was recently disclosed by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) during its parliamentary presentation on preparedness for the 2022 academic year.
Portfolio Committee on Basic Education chairperson, Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said they noted the numbers. “It is concerning, but we also understand the reasons provided by the DBE for these learners not being placed.”
By the end of March this year, about 500 primary school pupils from Forest Village in Eerste River were not yet placed. That prompted their parents to protest outside the legislature and start a makeshift school.
The situation led to the Public Service Commission and the South African Human Rights Commission stating that they would investigate.
The Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) said the Western Cape had an ongoing problem with unplaced pupils, and that next year would be no different.
“We have received an influx of cases through our advice clinic from parents looking for placement for their children. Education districts play a vital role when it comes to assisting parents to place learners, however they can be unresponsive and send parents from pillar to post, instead of providing them with the requisite assistance,” the EELC said.
It said it had been engaging the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) for years on whether a plan to adequately deal with unplaced pupils existed.
“We acknowledge problems around budget cuts and the implications of this on obtaining additional infrastructure and more teachers. However, this is all the more reason for the WCED to come up with a clear and responsive plan, something they have consistently failed to adequately do.”
National Association of School Governing Bodies chief executive Matekanye Matakanye said the WCED had no choice but to ensure all children were placed; if not, it would be taken to court for trampling on the children’s rights.
ANC provincial spokesperson on education Khalid Sayed, who recently questioned Education MEC Debbie Schäfer on learner admissions for 2022, said that in asking the questions about learner placement issues, they had hoped that the MEC and WCED would be transparent and as open as possible, so they could start assisting where they could in terms of crisis management.
“We do not want to be shocked again in January when thousands of learners are not placed and end up missing out on the entire first term of school,” Sayed said.
Schäfer said the DBE’s figures included pupils enrolled at schools, but who wanted to change schools.
“They were also very outdated. We have made significant progress since then on placing learners,” she said.
Schäfer said once promotion and progression had been completed in the next two weeks, schools would be able to finalise placement lists.
“The department has been working round the clock with parents to ensure that their children are suitably placed. It has also allocated additional posts, mobile classrooms and additional permanent classrooms to schools,” she said.
“The reasons for underspending were explained in detail to the members of the standing committee, as was the fact that it was not allowed to be diverted to building schools,” Schäfer said.
“Only R44.4 million – or 0.18% – of the budget was returned to the Treasury, as a result of Covid-19 disrupting departmental programmes,” she said.
Legal Resources Centre spokesperson Thabo Ramphobole said the number of unplaced learners in the Western Cape was being monitored.
He said the WCED had indicated that all pupils would be placed by December 31.
"We are hopeful that the WCED will stick to these time lines, however we will be engaging with the department should this not be done by the date indicated," Ramphobole said.
Education activist Hendrick Makaneta said the WCED should move swiftly to ensure all learners were placed in order to give certainty to parents that children would not be left stranded in the 2022 academic year.
"We really need to find a way to prioritise our learners, particularly those from townships and poor rural communities," Makaneta said.