6 March 2018

South Africa: 'We Are 52 Students in One Container'

More than 150 learners from Philippi High School marched to Parliament on Tuesday to voice their concerns over conditions at their school and a shortage of teachers.

"We are 52 students in one container [classroom]. The situation is making it difficult for us to learn," said Grade 10 student Thembaka Silarwa.

"We want to learn but we want to learn in an environment that is good. Those containers are hot when it's hot and they can be very cold in winter," she said. "When we have to write exams we write outside, and they have to hire a hall for matric students."

Learners have been complaining about the school since 2015 when police fired stun grenades at them for protesting over the lack of infrastructure.

In March 2017, the learners marched to the Metro South Education District Office in Mitchells Plain demanding the new school promised to them. Later that month, they marched to the Western Cape provincial legislature.

The schools is made up of 17 prefabricated, mobile classrooms containers. It has no library and no sport field. Classes are overcrowded say learners.

Grade 10 learner Siyanda Gojo said, "We have one teacher who teaches Xhosa and History but we are struggling ... We can't understand him"

"Our Math Literacy teacher comes twice, if we lucky three times, a week. ... None of us wants to fail. That is why we are here. We want a school that runs like any other school with teachers and a proper school [building]," said Gojo.

When no one from Parliament would attend to them, the learners left to occupy the provincial department of education offices. Here they were told student representatives would be taken on 18 March to see the site where the new school will be built.

In March, a spokesperson for the Western Cape Education Department told GroundUp that the school was "in the design phase" and that the school should go into construction in the 2017/18 financial year.

Provincial education department spokesperson Jessica Shelver told GroundUp that infrastructure delivery is subject to available budget. She said a contractor had been appointed by the Department of Public Works to build the school and should move onto the site on 28 March according to the project plan. Shelver said the school is due for completion in October 2019.

"District officials have discussed these plans thoroughly with the school governing body, the school management team and the representative council of learners ... All parties agree that the school is overcrowded. The new school will relieve this overcrowding considerably," said Shelver.

Shelver told GroundUp last week that classrooms are becoming overcrowded in the Western Cape due to migration. "The current teacher to learner provincial ratio is 1 to 37."

"The department does not have budget to allocate additional teachers at this stage," she said.

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