By Yolandé Stander
SPACE is so limited at some rural Eastern Cape schools that up to three teachers are simultaneously teaching different subjects in a single classroom. This is among the shock findings made by the provincial Education Department’s portfolio committee following an inspection of schools in Cofimvaba, Lady Frere and Queenstown in the Chris Hani District this week.
Education experts have reacted with outrage and dismay to the committee’s findings, calling the situation “insane” and “bizarre”.
Among the committee’s findings are that:
* A number of teachers share one classroom, teaching different subjects to different grades – as high as Grades 10, 11 and 12 – simultaneously.
* There is one textbook being shared among large groups of pupils at these schools.
* The Eastern Cape has numerous small schools with an enrolment of fewer than 135 pupils and fewer than five teachers who have to teach all subjects offered for grades 10 to 12. The majority of these schools have no teachers.
“Most of these small schools lack the necessary space, resulting in more than one grade sharing the same classroom. These multiple grades are taught by one teacher and this type of presentation is known as multi-grade teaching,” committee member Edmund van Vuuren said.
“This mode of teaching is confusing pupils, resulting in [their] being further disadvantaged by sometimes getting information that is not grade-appropriate. I have never experienced anything like this in my 30 years as a teacher.”
The situation was worst at the Sosebenza Senior Secondary School in the rural village of Umhlanga, in Lady Frere, which had only four classrooms. “We found three teachers in one class teaching three different subjects to three different groups of pupils, which implies that three classes are conducted at the same time in one venue. “This school was built in 2006 with only four classrooms to accommodate 167 pupils. There are only six teachers per the latest post provisioning, offering nine learning areas per grade for grades 10 to 12.”
Yet in spite of their shocking circumstances, matric pupils at Sosebenza obtained a 61.7% pass rate last year. “Although studying under difficult conditions, also having to share textbooks because of inadequate funding and walking long distances to school, they had performances above average when compared to other schools in a better position,” Van Vuuren said.
But he reiterated this “untenable situation” should never be condoned and it was inexplicable how a complete secondary school could consist of only four classrooms.
“The most obvious is that pupils are not 100% focused. They get distracted easily and there are high noise levels. Teachers are sometimes not audible and space is too cramped.”
East London education expert Ken Alston, who has 40 years’ experience in this field, said he had never heard of such a “bizarre” practice. “It is insane. It is criminal. I can’t believe this is happening,” Alston said. He added it was impossible to provide quality education under such circumstances.
“How do the teachers cope? How do the pupils cope? The district director should be held accountable.”
Veteran educationalist Graeme Bloch said: “According to the Department of Education a classroom is built for every 40 pupils, as per requirements for the building of schools. The department is unapologetic for the number of classrooms built and has been uncooperative in providing additional classrooms after numerous requests from the school.
“It goes beyond reason to expect schools in similar situations to compete and be measured against schools that do not have the same infrastructure shortages.”
Attempts to contact education spokesman Loyiso Pulumani for comment proved unsuccessful.
This is a shortened version of an article that was published in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday January 21.