- Most schools in the Eastern Cape fail to meet the minimum norms and standards set under the South African Schools Act.
- Only 1% of schools in the province have adequate fencing which protects learners, teachers, and classrooms against violence and vandalism.
- The province also accounts for 45% of schools in the South Africa which rely solely on pit latrine toilets.
- Making matters worse, vital school infrastructure projects have been halted due to a lack of funding.
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The Eastern Cape has the highest number of public schools in South Africa which lack adequate fencing, rely solely on pit latrines, and are built of appropriate material.
The majority of schools in the Eastern Cape fail to meet the minimum standards prescribed under the South African Schools Act. This was recently revealed through provincial infrastructure statistics presented by the minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, in reply to a Parliamentary question tabled in April.
Of South Africa’s 23,259 operational public schools, some 5,290 – roughly 23% – are in the Eastern Cape. But a dire lack of resources, isolated classrooms, and the mismanagement of funds intended to improve the level of education in the province continue to plague pupils.
The province has one of the lowest matric pass rates in the country, with only 68% of pupils obtaining their National Senior Certificates in 2020. It’s estimated that more than 120,000 pupils dropped out of school last year, in part, due to challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and the lack of digital learning alternatives in the province.
And while most classrooms in the Eastern Cape reopened to pupils in 2021, a third of all schools hadn’t received textbooks and more than 600 weren’t led by principals at the start of the first term.
Adding to the province’s woes was National Treasury’s recent decision to cut R1.7 billion from school infrastructure grants.
With specific reference to Section 5A of the South African Schools Act, which deals with the norms and standards for basic infrastructure and capacity in public schools, Motshekga, in 2017, finalised the School Infrastructure Safety and Security Guidelines (SISG).
Emphasis was placed on constructing secure perimeter fencing to protect both learners and classrooms. These guidelines determined the materials which would be used to construct these fences, its height, foundations, over-climb preventions, and anti-burrowing properties.
Almost all school infrastructure projects – including those intended to align with the SISG – in the Eastern Cape have been suspended due to a lack of funds. Today, only 1% of schools in the province meet the adequate fencing requirements.
The suspension of school infrastructure projects has also done little alleviate the province’s ongoing pit latrine problem. Motshekga recently revealed that 944 public schools in the Eastern Cape relied solely on pit latrine toilets.
This issue was once again highlighted in March, when an Eastern Cape school principal was charged with child abuse for allegedly forcing a pupil to receive his cell phone from a pit latrine toilet.
Of the 2,111 schools in South Africa which rely exclusively on pit latrines, the Eastern Cape accounts for 45% of the total.
Almost a hundred schools in the province are also identified as being “built entirely of inappropriate materials”. This generally refers to schools built of mud or asbestos. Motshekga noted that these schools are currently subjected to the process of “rationalisation and realignment” which will phase out the mixed schooling system whereby primary and secondary pupils are taught in the same classroom.
Motshekga listed a limited budget and theft of infrastructure assets as fundamental problems facing embattled schools.
The minister said that the continued reliance on pit latrines was because of “drought were boreholes run dry, and waterborne toilets are not used anymore because of lack of water.”