At the start of any school year there is usually a late demand for places in schools. There is nothing unusual or surprising about this.
The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) therefore has systems in place to deal with the late demand so that we can ensure that learners find places as soon as possible. We are thankful that the number of late learners in the Western Cape, unlike the numbers in some of the other provinces, is low.
Each year we have between 700 and 1 000 learners that need placement. This is less than 0.1% of the school population and does not mean that there is actually that number of children without a place in a school because we do know that there are duplicates in this figure. Some parents request assistance from two different districts simultaneously, others have children in a school but are "holding out" for their first choice of school.
A major contributing factor to the low numbers is the success of our extensive and very public "early enrolment campaign", which results in the majority (over 99.9 %) of the school population being enrolled before the end of the previous school year.
However, regardless of the actual numbers involved, the WCED needs to place the learners as quickly as possible. This process, as indicated in a statement on the 15th of January, usually takes at least a week.
The reason for this is to allow schools to finalise their own registrations. Schools need to verify their own enrolments, determine if absent learners are in fact returning, and calculate and monitor the number of places still available.
In some cases, parents have enrolled their child at more than one school. Therefore, the WCED and the school need to confirm if each 'absent' learner is in fact enrolled at another school. This then leaves enrolment gaps within the system which we can fill.
It is however imperative that the lists provided to the WCED are accurate. Therefore, it is appropriate that we give our schools approximately a week to determine their capacity to enrol additional learners.
If this information is fed to the Districts within this period, we use the late enrolment lists we have in our possession to allocate places to learners in consultation with the schools concerned. It is an extensive and complicated process, but it has proven to be successful and effective.
What we ask of parents, the public, and even the media, is to allow us this time to confirm these registrations. In many cases parents have failed in their responsibility to enrol their child early. In return, we ask them to exercise patience while we accommodate their children as quickly as possible.
I am confident that we will soon be able to accommodate each of the learners that currently need placement. This is contrary to some false reports, from people wanting to politicise the situation, claiming that we do not have enough places in our Western Cape Schools.
Zwelitsha enrolment process
In the last week, there has been much publicity around the enrolment of learners in the Zwelitsha area of Khayelitsha. Zwelitsha is one of Khayelitsha's newer developments and is earmarked for further expansion in the years to come.
Last week, we were made aware of learners from the Zwelitsha community that needed placement in schools. The WCED immediately engaged with community leaders and requested that they provide us with a list of learners that need to be placed.
We received a list of over 400 names on Wednesday (16 January). We soon determined that many of the learners on the list were in fact enrolled at other schools. There were other learners that still needed placement. The majority of these learners were new learners entering the system in Grade 1, and late enrolments from other areas and provinces.
To confirm the names and ages of the learners on the list the WCED arranged for a special "registration" at a school on the outskirts of the community. Parents were requested to bring ID documents, birth certificates and progression reports so that we could determine the need and names of learners for each grade.
This process began smoothly, but was then later interrupted by a group of community members determined to disrupt the department's efforts to enrol these children at schools. Our officials were locked inside the school and certain demands were made, including the demand that of a new mobile school be built in the area within the next four days.
Obviously, a demand such as this is unrealistic. Firstly, a mobile school cannot be built within four days and secondly, there is no land available on which to build this school.
Our continued commitment was to ensure that we place learners in schools in the vicinity. Any attempts to engage further with the community were thwarted by a small group, interested more in their own political agenda than our attempts to enrol the learners at a school/s.
Sadly, some parents who have children enrolled in schools have taken their children out of these schools to engage in protest action for a new school in the area. Their decision to disrupt their own child's schooling is unfortunate. This week we were able to determine that of the list of over 400 learners, only 138 still needed places in schools. All these learners need to be accommodated in primary schools.
All principals in Khayelitsha were informed that a meeting between the schools and the department was to take place on Wednesday, 23 January 2013, and were asked to finalise and confirm their registration lists and bring with them the details of the spaces available in their school.
This process is in line with the late enrolment process I have described above. By Wednesday, we believed that we had given schools enough time to finalise their lists. Yesterday, our officials, together with the Khayelitsha Development Forum (KDF), met with 50 of the 60 school principals in the Khayelitsha area.
The meeting was productive. As a result of allowing our schools time to finalise and confirm their registration lists, they were able to provide us with exact numbers and details of available places in our schools. As we suspected, there are still available places, contrary to what certain community members were telling parents.
In fact, we have in our possession a list that contains the exact number of places in each grade that are available in each school. There is a total of 686 places available in the primary schools I and 120 in the Secondary Schools.
There are two schools each with three additional classrooms that can also be utilised if needed. With this information we are confident that we will be able to accommodate the 138 learners, and some, at a school.
The enrolment process going forward
In order to ensure a smooth enrolment process, the department has arranged, with the assistance of the KDF, a registration hub where parents can now enrol their child at school. This will take place at the KDF offices at the Zenzele Training Centre in Bongo Drive where officials will direct parents to a school that matches their needs and is nearest to their home.
I appeal to parents to make use of this service that we are providing them. If parents follow the advice given, their children could be attending school as early as tomorrow. The onus is now on them to be responsible for their children's education and to enrol them at a school. Should a parent continue to refuse to enrol their child, they will be in clear violation of the law.
Any disruption to this process by various community members is clearly not in the best interests of these children. Taking them out of school or preventing them from being enrolled is in itself a contravention of legal obligations.
I would like to thank the Metro East Education District Office for ensuring that a clear working plan is in place that can ensure that all learners are accommodated.
Misconceptions regarding land
Throughout this process there have been false statements made about past promises by the department regarding the building of a new school in the Zwelitsha area. This misinformation campaign has been created in an attempt to undermine our efforts to enrol children in school.
The fact is that there were never any promises made by the department in connection with building a new school, either back in 2010, or last year. At the beginning of 2010, the department released an infrastructure plan which detailed clearly the 25 new schools that we had planned to build over the next three-year period.
The area of Zwelitsha was not identified on that plan. The department would also not commit to building a school that is not included in this plan. Determining the number of new schools and the areas where they are built is an extensive process. It requires comprehensive analysis and research taking into account numerous factors such as population shifts, future housing developments, and the ultilisation of existing schools.
This plan is then budgeted accordingly in terms of our Medium Term Expenditure Framework and therefore there is little or no space for any adjustments to the plan. It is clearly evident that the statements made by particular political opportunists in relation to the Zwelitsha matter are false.
If these people have contrary evidence, we would like to see this presented to the public. Unfortunately, some members of the community and parents have believed these rumours and this has influenced some of their actions over the last week, including, in some cases, not allowing their children to attend school.
In an attempt to disrupt this process further, new allegations have now surfaced. Certain people are now telling the community that we promised to build them a mobile school. Again these accusations are completely false. We have made it very clear that there have been no plans to build a mobile school.
It is obvious that these people are now clutching at straws in order to get community support. Unfortunately any move to disrupt our enrolment process is to the detriment of the learners and their education.
Future plans for Zwelitsha
As we near the end of the 2012/13 financial year, we also near the end of the current infrastructure plan. We have been able to fulfill the commitments we have made in terms of this plan. All 25 schools have undertook to build have been built or are near completion.
We are currently finalising the draft infrastructure plan for the next three year period which will officially be published in March 2013. I am pleased to announce that a primary school in the Zwelitsha area is included in our list of 26 new schools to be built over the 2013/14 - 2015/16 period.
The WCED is currently investigating possible sites on which to build this school. Once these are identified, we can begin the planning phase for building a new school. Until then, we will continue to accommodate learners in the assisting schools in Khayelitsha. There are quite clearly places available.
Should we need further accommodation this will be assessed and plans will be made accordingly. We ask that the community now work with the WCED to ensure that their children attend school every day. We are fulfilling our duties and responsibilities. It is now time that they fulfill theirs.
We hope that they too ignore those individuals that do not have the best interests of their children at heart. Ultimately, we can all work Better, Together.
Issued by: Western Cape Education