In July, GroundUp reported the story of children in Du Noon who had still not been placed in schools for the academic year. Immediately following the story, attorneys at the Equal Education Law Centre, acting on behalf of Equal Education and a committee of parents, entered into urgent discussions with the Western Cape Education Department. The EELC provided the WCED with the names of more than 750 children in the Du Noon area who had not been placed in public schools for the 2015 academic year. At least 540 children are of compulsory schooling age and the department is under an obligation to ensure that these children are in a public school.

Du Noon school capacity crisis

There are only two primary schools in Du Noon. Both of them are already overcrowded.

According to the WCED, 130 of the learners requesting admission are already registered on the Central Education Management Information Systems (CEMIS), and recorded as attending a school. However, the majority of the parents of the unplaced learners applied for school admission timeously (in 2014), but were informed that schools were full and that their children could not be accommodated. As a result, many children have received no formal education for the first two quarters of this academic year, and will require substantial remedial intervention to catch up with the appropriate curriculum. In all likelihood, these learners will be unable to progress in 2016 to the next grade.

Parents in Du Noon are seriously concerned, not only about their children’s academic progress, but also about their safety. Children in the community, who are often unsupervised during school hours, have been victims of incidents of violence and sexual assault. In an effort to provide some form of education for their children, and to keep them safe, a group of Du Noon parents and volunteers set up an informal school for about 130 learners in June this year. The parents, out of desperation, housed the school in a temporary structure which had been vacated by the WCED.

Officials from the WCED initially condemned the unauthorized use of the vacated structure as unlawful, but, in recent correspondence with the EELC, the Department stated that it would consider using the structure as a temporary school for learners who need schooling this year. The WCED further committed to providing adequate resources to enable the school to function until the Department provides a long term sustainable solution for the Du Noon community.

Intervention secures short-term relief

After meetings with the EELC, the Department committed to urgently registering approximately 340 learners requiring placement in schools this year, and have also referred learners requiring a place in 2016 to make applications to schools in Du Noon.

Lawyers from the EELC ensured that the WCED convened registration days which took place on 12 and 15 August. The EELC attended the registration days to provide advice to parents on the rights of their children to attend school and to assist community members with the registration process.

On 20 August, following the registration drive, the EELC met again with the WCED to finalise plans around the admission of learners now registered. At that meeting the WCED committed to opening the temporary school tomorrow and ensuring that the school is fully functional and timeously provided with curriculum advisors to assist educators with a catch-up plan. Community members have raised concerns around the planned management structure for the temporary school, and EE and the EELC are continuing to monitor the opening of the school and the resolution of these concerns, with a concerted focus on ensuring that the best interests of the children are placed at the forefront of plans and that learners are able to begin learning the curriculum without any further delay.

While we welcome the WCED’s steps to remedy the problem, the WCED must develop a more sustainable plan to address the issue of recurring shortages of schools in areas such as Du Noon. We note also that the WCED has refused to provide placement to the Du Noon children who should be in Grade R this year and in 2016, despite national government’s emphasis and commitment to early childhood development and its moves toward making Grade R schooling compulsory.[1]

Systemic shortages in school capacity

EE and the EELC recognise that national migration patterns have played a significant part in the school shortages in the Western Cape. From our assessment, it appears that at least 30% of the unplaced Du Noon children, and possibly more, recently moved to the province. The vast majority of these children are coming from the Eastern Cape. The WCED has been aware of large-scale learner movement to the province for over ten years[2], and has recognised its legal obligation to provide school placement for these learners.[3] In the WCED’s 2015/2016 budget speech, MEC Debbie Schafer noted that if 20 000 new learners arrive in the province, the department must construct an additional 15 to 20 schools to accommodate them.[4]Despite this, many children in the Western Cape continue to suffer from insufficient school capacity.

Earlier this year the EELC represented parents of 71 learners in Mitchell’s Plain and about 20 learners in Atlantis who were not enrolled in schools for the 2015 academic year. The MEC for Education in the Western Province has a constitutional and legislative obligation to ensure that every learner of compulsory school-going age is placed at a public school. The EELC’s interventions in early 2015, and the recent crisis in Du Noon, suggest that the WCED is failing in this regard.

Call on MEC to resolve insufficient school capacity

Equal Education and the EELC therefore call on the WCED to:

  1. Ensure that any remaining unplaced learners in Du Noon are accommodated in accessible schools in the community;
  2. Ensure that adequate catch up plans are implemented and monitored for learners being enrolled at this late stage in the academic year;
  3. Ensure adequate planning to cater for the full enrolment of all learners of compulsory school going age in 2016, which plan must fully account for the upper threshold of anticipated learner migration; and
  4. Adopt an approach that recognises the essential role of early childhood development and the importance of Grade R enrolment, as reflected in the Department of Basic Education’s Annual Performance Plan for 2015-2016.

EE and the EELC continue to monitor the situation. For More Information:

Sherylle Dass – Senior Attorney, Equal Education Law Centre 021 461 1421/3551
Nombulelo Nyathela – Spokesperson, Equal Education 060 503 4933

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[1] Department of Basic Education, Annual Performance Plan 2015 – 2016 at page 11.
[2] According to news reports, upwards of 122 000 learners arrived in the Western Cape between 2010 and 2014. Bekezela Phakathi, Eastern Cape Influx ‘Puts Strain’ on Western Cape Schools, Business Day: BDLive, Feb. 6, 2014, http://www.bdlive.co.za/national/education/2014/02/06/eastern-cape-influx-puts-strain-on-western-cape-schools
[3] R. B. Swartz, Head: Education, Circular on Establishing the Capacity of a Public Ordinary School in the Western Cape, Nov. 24, 2004, available at http://wced.school.za/circulars/2004/e69_04.html
[4] Debbie Schäfer, Western Cape Education Prov Budget Vote 2015/16, Mar. 26, 2015, available at http://www.gov.za/speeches/western-cape-government-education-budget-vote-20152016-26-mar-2015-0000