Kids out of school due to big waiting lists

ROSHAN ABRAHAMS

It’s almost a month since the start of the academic year, but there are children in Lavender Hill and Retreat who should have started Grade 1 this year but are still not in school because there is not enough space in the communities’ schools.

School principals say they have appealed to the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) for more mobile classrooms and teachers, but the department’s response to the crisis seems to have been sluggish at best, with one principal saying she’s still waiting for a response to her request for a mobile classroom in 2013.

Hillwood Primary School principal Gavin Alkana said a new school should be built in New Horizons, in Pelican Park, after parents from that area knocked on their door to enrol their children.

“I have to refuse these children, and we can’t enrol them because the school is chock-a-block. We do understand the parents’ frustrations, but we are sitting with 48 to 50 pupils in one class. There is a need for two new schools. One in New Horizons and one in St Montagu Village, the informal settlement.”

Pelican Park Primary principal, Vasintha Moonsamy, said they had battled to keep up with the influx of children since New Horizons had been built next door to them.

“There are 2 300 RDP houses, and we had to turn many children away. We had over 400 pupils and it increased to 750 pupils.”

They are using all their classrooms. “But we had to put our support teacher in a little cubical. We do not have enough space and we applied for a mobile in 2013 but we didn’t get any feedback from the WCED.

“We can only accommodate Grade R pupils. We are over our limit and we have no special classrooms for example a science lab or computer lab.”

Parents had to spend money for bus fare to send their children to school in Lavender Hill.

“There is a dire need for a new school, and the Pelican Park Owners’ Association (PPOA) is currently doing a survey to find out how many children are in the area.”

Jessica Shelver, spokeswoman for Education MEC Debbie Schafer, said: “We are aware of the growing demand for schooling in the area. One, however, needs to be acutely aware that there is a lack of land available on which to build new schools.”

However, PPOA chairman John Bailey said they had identified two vacant properties, one on the corner of Oystercatcher Road and another in 15th Avenue opposite Shoprite.

“I think the planners should have included an infrastructure for a school in the plans before they started to build,” he said, adding that once the number of children in the area had been surveyed, the association would ask for a temporary school to be built.

Prince George Primary principal, Lameez Rabbaney, said the 2016 Grade 1 waiting list was full and the 2017 list was already half full.

“We applied for extra teachers but are awaiting word from WCED. We need two additional teachers as our enrolment in-creased by 60 pupils. We employ three Student Governing Body (SGB) teachers and it requires extensive fund-raising from staff in order for the salaries to be paid at the end of the month. The school has a school fees bad debt of R120 000 and can therefore not depend on our school fees as an income to cover the cost.”

She said some parents had approached the school seeking placement for children who had been out of school for months or even years. “These I refer to the district office,” she said.

Lourier Primary School in Retreat has a list of almost 50 children who were due to start Grade 1 this year but were turned away because the school doesn’t have enough teachers to accommodate them.

Rashida Jardien, principal of Lourier Primary, said: “We applied for an extra Grade 1 teacher” for the 48 pupils, who are all due to start Grade 1, on the waiting list.

Ms Jardine said the school had the facilities to take the pupils, all it needed was the extra teacher. “We have a classroom and furniture already, but we were told to wait.”

Retreat resident Leah Abrahams’s seven-year-old son, Ivan, missed his first three weeks of school, before his mother was eventually able to find a spot for him at Hillwood. “I see other little ones playing in the park and smoking. I don’t want to see my child out of school,” she said.

Ms Shelver said the WCED was upgrading Zeekoevlei Primary School to accommodate the pupils on the waiting list.

”Zeekoevlei Primary School is on the WCED schools replacement list, which will assist with accommodating additional numbers. The new school will be able to accommodate more pupils,” she said. “We are also assisting with a donor funded school in the Vrygrond area, near Lavender Hill, which will increase capacity.”