The instability brought about by the covid-19 pandemic has in significant ways compromised the schooling career and academic progress of children with special education needs.
THE SHOW GOES ON: With most learners back in the classroom, both children and teachers are forced to adapt to the covid-19 rules. Photo: Akhona Matshoba
The documents pinned neatly to a maroon notice board on the wall behind her form a backdrop that indicates this school principal runs an orderly ship.
Even though our interaction is on a virtual platform and I have only a headshot view of AnsonetteKraucamp, I can tell she is fond of her job. This is evident in the way her eyes light up when she gets excited about a question.Her smile accentuates the wrinkles that have formed around the corners of her eyes.Her passion for her work shows in the way she brushes back her pixie–cut hair when she is frustrated.
Kraucampbecame the principal at Casa do Sol, a special education needs (SEN) school in Randburg, a suburb north of Johannesburg, in April 2020, just weeks after the lockdown due to covid-18 was imposed in South Africa. With a wry smile, she refers to herself as a ‘‘corona baby’’ because of her ill-timed commencement of the position.The school caters to children between the ages of six and 21 years old who have intellectual impairments.
The new normal
In October, more than two months since the last national school closures took place, and with South African schools back in session,Kraucamp boasts about how well she believesher learners are adapting to their ‘‘new normal’’: “They are superstars,” she says. She proudly shows me a small sanitiser bottle attached securely to a lanyard slung around her neck. This bottle, she says, is given to all the senior learners at her school who understand what sanitiser is and how it is to be used.
The return to school in August was, however, not without its challenges. Kraucampnotes that there are some children, especially those with autism, who are still struggling to adjust. She sayssome kids are having trouble with wearing a mask. She refers to one of her learners, whom she calls “little Thapelo”, who cannot wear a mask for long periods. She also speaks about another learner who wants to wear only surgical masks and not cloth ones. She saysalthough understanding what each child is comfortable with involves a lot of “trial and error”, operations at the school continue.
CAPTAIN OF THE SHIP: Despite the chaos caused by the covid-19 pandemic, the newly appointed principal aims to lead the school with love and compassion. Photo: Akhona Matshoba.
According to Kraucamp, most of her learners have returned to school and only about 19 out of almost 200 remain at home, because they have life-threatening comorbidities. Their parents have todecide between possibly risking their children’s lives by sending them to school to receive a proper education, or keeping them at home, where they are safe. Choosing the latter means some parents may have to sacrifice their children’s academic progress. One parent faced with this decision is Ronelle Kelly (50) who is Joshua Kelly’s mother. Joshua (17) is a grade nine learner at Casa do Sol who has Down’s syndrome and chronic asthma.
The principal says although learners such as Joshua remain at home, they can still join virtual classes. “Some of the kids [with]comorbidities or lockdown learning will be part of the class via MS teams,” Kraucamp says.
Joshua’s mother says, however, that because she has returned to work, her son misses out on such classes because he is unable to log onto platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom on his own. Instead, she collects her son’s schoolwork from the school every second week. The schoolwork comes in the form of thin, ring–binder books with laminated pages. Inside them are activities like practising the days of the week, reading and comprehension and alsomathematics exercises.
On a warm day nearly two months after schools reopened, Joshua and his mother are seated opposite me in the living room of their home in Albertskroon, a suburb ofRandburg. Ronelle Kelly has long black and gold braids that drape over her shoulders and down her back. She looks tired. I can tell from the redness and the bags beneath her eyes that she does not get much sleep. Joshua, who is seated next to his mother, is twiddling his thumbs and seems uninterested in our conversation. He is dressed in blue sweatpants and a t-shirt that hides a thin gold chain. The chain makes an occasional sparkling appearance whenever he looks up.
“I will never ever tell a parent, you have to bring your child [to school], because if something happens to that child, what then?”
Fearful that her son could contract the coronavirus, Kelly decided to keep him out of school for the remainder of the 2020 academic year. She took this decision in June after South African schools reopened after the first school closure which lasted foralmost three months. Joshua’s mother takes on a stern tone when she tells me, “I tell you, if something happens to my son, that’s the only time you’ll see me lose my head.” Her fear for her son’s life is almost palpable.
Kraucamp says although schools are now considered safe, it is not her place to tell parents what decisions they should take regarding the health of their children. “I will never ever tell a parent, you have to bring your child [to school], because if something happens to that child, what then?”, she says.
The long-lasting effects of covid-19
Speaking to Wits Vuvuzela, Dr Hester Costa, the director of inclusion and special schools at the Gauteng Department of Education, says there are about 1 000 learners who have not returned to SEN schools this year because of severe health conditions. This is even after the second national school closure, which lasted a few weeks. According to the most recent data, has 47 918 children with special education needs enrolled at 149 special schools. Gauteng has 47 918 children with special education needs enrolled at 149 special schools.
Experts say prolonged disruptions of the academic programme will result in negative impacts on children with learning disabilities. This is because consistency and routineare an essential part of learning for children with special education needs.
Kelly says she tries to keep her son academically stimulated. Joshua, with the aid of their helper, Chichila Sylvia Seshibe (43), does some schoolwork every day. She notes, however, that because they do not know what they are doing half the time, Joshua is forgetting a lot of the content he learned at school before the lockdown.
LEARNING ON THE JOB: Parents of learners who continue to learn from home have been forced to improvise and learn how to teach their children. Photo: Akhona Matshoba
After letting out a nervous laugh followed by a heavy sigh, Joshua’s mother tells me, “Iam just teaching him what comes [into] my head, what I think is right.”
I have come to notice that she laughs nervously and lets out a deep sigh whenever she is nervous or feels overwhelmed.She performs this ritual again during my tour of Joshua’s room. She opens his closet and reveals the learning charts she has made to keep him stimulated while at home. One, on the right-hand door of the closet, is a colour chart that helps Joshua remember colours. According to his mother, “Joshua’s memory span is very short.” She has cut square name tags from yellow paper and stuck one under each matching button. The coat buttons are of varying colours and sizes. They each have a thick outer rim and four holes neatly poked in the middle.
On the left-hand door of the closet is a hot-pink A3 poster,untidily created using two A4 pages. Written on one side of this makeshift poster are all the days of the week. Stuck onto the opposite side of the poster are photos of different activities that correspond with Joshua’s weekly schedule. Next to Monday is a photo of children in school uniform sitting in a classroom, writing. Tuesdays are for dance class and Fridays are for sports. Sunday has a picture of a cross on a hill, which symbolises church. These visual charts, according to Kelly, help Joshua remember things better. They are also in line with the activities which medium–functioning children such as Joshua, with intellectual disabilities, do at school
SEN education unravels amid the chaos
Costa, the director of inclusion and special schools in Gauteng, notes that when children returned to school after the extended school closures, teachers noticed clear signs of regression in their academic capability. She says schools “had to start again with the whole process of reintegration into the school”, adding that “everything we would usually do for the first-time entrants, [schools] had to do with all the children”.
Nikki Preston, educationalpsychologist at the Morningside Therapy Centre and the Talk Shop School, tells Wits Vuvuzela that time away from school is bound to lead to regression in certain skills. She says this is because a lot of learning is facilitated through social interaction in classrooms and on the playground. “We have seen a regression in speech development and sensory development,” she says.
Joshua’s mother further complains that her son’s schoolwork lacks logical progression. She says the levels of difficulty between one work pack and the next one make no sense to her, and her confusion often frustrates Joshua.
“there are no textbooks, no resources, no guidelines [for teachers] at SEN schools.”
A lecturer at the Wits School of Education, Dr Tanya Bekker, notes that covid-19 has brought the SEN curriculum’s inadequacyinto sharp focus. She saysbefore the pandemic the gaps in the curriculum were not as “in–your–face”, because teachers found ways to compensate for them. She adds that teachers must individualise the work to cater for each child’s capabilities, and it is impossible to fully transfer that into remote learning resources.
Kraucamp concedesBekker’s point. She saysher school had to develop its own curriculum to fill in the gaps left by the government–prescribed Differentiated Curriculum and Assessment Policy (CAPS). The Differentiated CAPS is an adapted version of the CAPS curriculum taught at mainstream schools.
Bothered either by the rising heatwave in Johannesburg or the education department’s neglect of special education schools,Kraucamp brushes her fringe out of her face. After a long pause, she says that in addition to having an inconsistent curriculum, “there are no textbooks, no resources, no guidelines [for teachers] at SEN schools.” The principal adds that even before the pandemic teachers had to improvise and source their own learning materials. “Sometimes we get ideas on Pinterest [and] we use it in the classrooms.”
Kraucamp goes on to say that lockdown learning really challenged her teachers who were parents themselves. Because teachers must prepare lessons for children on numerous platforms, “lockdown learning is harder work than teaching with a classroom” and, she says, teachersmust often rope in family members to help with other home responsibilities.
The catch-up game
To make up for lost academic time for those who have returned to schools, SEN schools, much like mainstream ones, have been instructed by the Basic Education Department to “trim the fluff” in the curriculum. South African SEN schools are now focusing on core subjects such as numeracy, literacy communication and life orientation.
Costa notes that parents should not worry about their children losing their placement at schools. She says all children in SEN schools will progress to their next level of school next year, and whatever content is not covered in 2020 will be incorporated into the 2021 academic year. “The idea is [that] no child is going to fail,” she says, and the sector aims to recover from the impact of the pandemic by 2022.
The future of children like Joshua, who have severe health challenges, hangs in the balance as there is no certainty when they will return to school. The uncertainty is even greater now, as the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus cases looms.
There is no telling when Joshua will return to school, or if he ever will return. Unless the world’s scientists find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, Joshua will remain confined to the environment of his home. He will live his life guarded by the high walls of his yard, with his helper as his teacher and his mother as his keeper.
Joshua’s mother is adamant that she has no intention to send Joshua back to school for as long as covid-19 remains a threat to his life. If necessary, she says, she does not mind if Joshua loses his placeat school. “I don’t mind if I have to lose his position during this time. I can rather lose it, but a life I cannot get back.”
FEATURED IMAGE: With most learners back in the classroom, both children and teachers are forced to adapt to the covid-19 rules. Photo: Akhona Matshoba.
The national lockdown caused by the covid-19 pandemic meant that the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) was suspended for the first time since its inception in 1994, leaving millions of learners in South Africa without the security of a daily nutritious meal.
It’s aquiet Wednesday morning at SivelilePrimary School, a state primary school in Meadowlands, Soweto, Gauteng province, South Africa. The silence can be attributed to the classes that are still taking place just before lunch, at 11 am.
As I enter the school gates, the security guard asks, “singakusizanganisisi?”I explain to him my business at the school and he offersme a seat outside the small wooden shed located just inside the entrance to the school. He goes to confirm my meeting with the school principal.
Once the principal has confirmed my visit,head of department (HOD) at Sivelile, Fezeka Tabata, takes me to one of the grade seven classrooms.
What is a nutritious meal?
Itis 11am and learners are about to eat their nutritious meal of the day.Themeal consists of soft porridge for breakfast. Lunch is usually a starch, protein, fruit or vegetable. There are various options for starch: maize meal, rice or samp.
Proteins include milk, pilchards, soya and sugar beans. Vegetables are normally cabbage, pumpkin and a fruit, depending on what is in season.The lunch the learners receive depends on the day of the week.
The needs of each province are kept in mind whenthe decisions on what the learners eat are made. They are then concluded by nutritionists who determine what is nutritious for the learners and what the national food budget is for schools.
The women who cook at the school, and who are also parents to some of the learners, bring large containers of food from the kitchen into one of the grade seven classrooms as they prepare to dish up for the learners.
School feeding schemes provide parents and caregivers the opportunity to work and provide for their families. Photo: Khuleko Siwele.
There is no hall at the school, soall the learners are either dished up for in their respective classrooms, in the corridor or in the kitchen.
On this particular Wednesday, learners are being served rice, canned pilchards and butternut. The rice looks mushy and tastes slightly over–cooked, the canned fish is stewed and has a tangy tomato–like taste, and the boiled butternut has a sweet, natural taste.
The food looks bland at first sight, but it’s true that looks can be deceiving, because for me the food is more flavourful than it appears. I can also tell that these learners are used to the food they are receiving, because of their eagerness to dish up.
“Why are you guys not excited? This is your favourite meal,” remarksTabata. The reason for the students’ lack of excitement seems to be because of the unfamiliar face in their classroom.
As they are about to pray, one of the learners realises I am about to take a picture and shyly looks away.
The lockdownmeant that some of these kidswent without thedaily nutritious meal they depend on for survival,and this is what it still means for approximately two million learners in the country who are still not receiving the meal. No school means no food.
Court victory for the NSNP
In July, the High Court in Pretoria ordered the Department of BasicEducation(DBE) to reinstate the NSNP, after private organisation Equal Education took the department to court.
“a life-saving programme for the poorest–ofthepoor child“
When this order was made,acting deputy judge andpresident of the North Gauteng High CourtSuletPotterill, in her ruling in the case of Equal Education and others v. the department of basic educationand others, highlighted that the NSNP was “a life-saving programme for the poorest–ofthepoor child”.
Learners are not allowed to play outside during break in order to ensure social distancing, but learners make the most out of the little time they get to be outside. Photo: Khuleko Siwele
The National SchoolNutritionProgramme(NSNP) is a national project run by thedepartment of basic education (DBE). Theprogrammepre-lockdown fed over 9 million learners a daily nutritious meal at public schools across the country.Sivelileprimary is one of over 20 000 public schools in the country who depend on the school feeding scheme.
This programme is labelled by Equal Educations researcher Stacey Jacobsas “one of the more successful programmes run by the (DBE)”.
The schools that are targeted fall under quintile one to three public primary and secondary schools and identified special schools in quintiles four and five.These are the poorest schools in the country.
The purpose of a free daily meal
Through the implementation of the NSNP, the DBE aims at a sustainable provisioning of quality food to learners who are threatened by poverty and hunger.This food is to enhance the learning capacity of children while at school by providing a daily nutritious meal, and to encourage school attendance.
“School feeding can improve the consumption of nutritious food by children, if the menu is well designed (by nutrionists) and especially if both breakfast and lunch are delivered at school,” according to the Food Security SA Working Paper Series: #004.
When children are not receiving these meals, they become susceptible to not just illnesses but being exploited, as well as other social injustices faced by children in South Africa that are heightened when learners aren’t in school.
From the mouth of a beneficiary
“Wow, I didn’t know Wits was this big,” says Lawrence Manaka, a matric learnerat JB MatabaneSecondary School, as he gets out of his Uber at Wits Art Museum (WAM) from Ivory Park, where his school is situated.
It’s around 3pm on a Thursday afternoon and Manaka is still in his school uniform, a yellow shirt with a blue tie that has the school’s logo, and khaki pants. We walk into WAM and I offer him a seat on the black couches located in what used to be a busy cafeteria with students, lecturersand visitors stopping by during the day, but is now filled with silence.
Manaka, a beneficiary of the programme, wasn’t one of the learners negatively affected by the programme being stopped in higher levels of the lockdown. In as much as he sometimes eats the food from school,it is not a need for him.
The matric learner gives me a little background information about the area he’s from:“Iam from Ivory park and it’s a very underprivileged community and there are a lot of learners there who depend solely on the meals that they get from school.
‘’When some of my schoolmates come to school, it’s not just them coming to learn – it’s also them coming to get the meal,’’ says Manaka. ‘‘So, when [the country] went into hard lockdown some of the learners faced a huge problem, because now they couldn’t get access to food.”
Manaka tells me about a friend of his who was hit hard by the school feeding scheme being suspended. “I have a friend who would come to my house, and because I know the situation back home, he would get food from my house or my mum would give him [money].
‘’You could tell he really needed the food to get through the day. His situation was extreme to the point where he considered dropping out of school and looking for work rather than being at home hungry. When we went back to school you could tell it became better, because now he can get at least two meals a day,” says Manaka.
Department backtracks on NSNP
In March, after the country recorded its first cases of covid-19, the Minister of BasicEducation, Angie Motshekga, announced that all schools in the country would be closed, which also meant the NSNP would be suspended. More thannine million learners stopped receiving a daily meal at school because of this.
On May 19, day 54 of the national lockdown,Motshekga, in a media statement,publicly announced that pupils in grades seven and 12 would return to school in June, and that the NSNP would resume for all qualifying pupils at the same time.
The minister did not live up to her word when schools finally resumed on June 8, with grade seven and grade 12 being the only grades to receive the meal, saying the department needed more time.
This prompted Equal Education (EE), together with two Limpopo high schools supported by Equal Education Law Centre and SECTION27, to take the DBE and provincial education departments to court on June 12.
The reason for this was the EE believes that the backtracking of the DBE in providing learners with this meal, after promising otherwise, violates learners’ constitutional rights.
“The failure of the DBE and provincial education departments to roll out the NSNP to all qualifying learners, or even to produce a plan or programme for doing so, is a regressive measure that violates learners’ rights to basic nutrition, basic education and equality,” said EqualEducation.
Even if every child has access to education, they cannot learn well if they are hungry. Photo: Khuleko Siwele
Equal Education wanted the judge to declare that all qualifying learners, regardless of whether or not they have resumed classes, must receive a daily meal.
“South Africans are at high risk of micronutrient deficiency, specifically Vitamin A and iron. Lack of Vitamin A impairs the immune system, while lack of iron leads to anaemia, fatigue and dizziness. Hunger and micronutrient deficits are known to impact negatively on school attendance, cognitive capacity and immunity to disease,” says Food Security SA. The NSNP aims to avoid these illnesses, and during a time of covid-19 this is more important than ever.
LehlonoloMagqoki, director of the NSNP for the Gautengdepartmentof education (GDE),in his departmental office at 55 Fox Street, explains that it is not the education department’s responsibility to feed children when they are out of school, and the lockdown facilitated such a time.
“we never offered meals during lockdown level five becausethe grant that comes from national did not allow us“
“We, as the GDE nutrition directorate, offer meals to learners that are at school from Monday to Friday. So, we never offered meals during lockdown level five becausethe grant that comes from national did not allow us to offer meals to learners. We do not offer learners food while they are at home,” says Magqoki.
Child support grant not sufficient
The childsupportgrant (CSG) was ‘topped up’ in May, from R440 to R740, during the lockdown. This has proved to be insufficient because“for millions of households across the country food security was gravely compromised due to the covid-19-necessitated lockdown,” said Equal Education in a statement.
The survey, focusing mainly on that one-third of households fully dependent on grants and calculating the grant income they would qualify for, found that 87% of children would have been in poverty before the topups were introduced.
“The top-ups were indeed much larger than the loss of school meals, but the lockdown took away the certainty of a nutritious meal a day on school days,” NIDS-CRAM wave 1.
Not all learners at JBMatabanesecondaryschool qualify for the CSG. Lawrence Makana who is also a learner member Equal Education says “not all learners are South African citizens some of these learners are at school using permits, meaning they are foreigners. This means they don’t qualify for the social grant.”
The NIDS-CRAM in its recommendation for school meals, recommends that school feeding be extended to provide meals for the weekend during the pandemic. This provision would allow learners to eat during weekends or public holidays when the feeding scheme does not operate.
This is not something the department has not considered. “The only challenge [the DBE] has, and it’s been spoken about for [approximately] five years, is that now we are feeding the learners Monday to Friday, and some of these learners are from child–headed families that do not have food on weekends. The department is looking at means of augmenting meals on weekends with the DSD on how we can help, but currently meals end on weekdays,” says LehlonoloMagqoki, as he eats his breakfast cereal.
According to a court–ordered departmental report, the covid-19 pandemic has prompted the provincial department of Gauteng to change its standard operating procedures in respect of NSNP to prevent and manage the spread of the virus in schools, while providing learners with meals.
FEATURED IMAGE: The suspension of the school nutrition programme in March, left over nine million South African learners deprived of having an opportunity to access food. Photo: Khuleko Siwele
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has signed off on plans to introduce Mandarin as a second additional language in the South African education curriculum.
The South African Department of Basic Education (DBE) announced this week that Mandarin will be introduced into the South African curriculum.
Scholars in Grades 4 to 12 will have the option of taking Mandarin as a second language option as from January next year.
Plans to introduce the language started last year when Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga signed an implementation plan to strenthen educational ties between the Ministry of Education in China and the DBE at an institutional and policy level.
Over the years South Africa and China have joined together and signed several strategic agreements that aim to strengthen bilateral relations, trade co-operation and create sustainable investment. China is also one of South Africa’s top tading partners.
Not a replacement for existing languages
Motshekga’s spokesperson, Troy Martens told Wits Vuvuzela that the introduction of mandarin is part of a language and cultural exchange between the two countries.
Although the DBE says that the implementation plans were still being finalised, Mandarin will be available to scholars in a select number of schools around South Africa from 2016.
Mandarin will join the likes German, Serbian, Latin, Portuguese, Spanish, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu, as alternative language options for students.
“It must be emphasised that this is not a replacement for any of the existing languges offered. It is a second additional language option,” Martens said
Trish Cooper, course coordinator at the Wits Language School (WLS), said “[Mandarin] is an exceptionally difficult language to learn. It takes about 600 to 800 hours to learn a European language whereas it takes more than 2000 hours for Mandarin.”
“My concern is that kids are already coming out of school with little mother tongue competence. Which makes it difficult to transfer the necessary skills into a second language,” said Cooper.
Although acknowledging the importance of Mandarin for business reasons, Cooper adds that she believes that African languages and culture need to be promoted more and should come first.
Super achievers: Wits vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib (seated left), Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga (seated right) along with the Dean of Students Dr Pamela Dube, (standing left) with some of the students who received the university’s Equality Scholarship. Photo: Mfuneko Toyana
The learners were chosen from quintiles 1 and 2 schools, classified as “no-fee schools and situated in the most disadvantaged communities in the country”.
Vice-Chancellor (VC) Professor Adam Habib and Minister Angie Motshekga sat side by side in front of the media and the student themselves in the plush Council Chambers in Senate House. They both spoke enthusiastically of the bright futures that these students represented.
“This is the basis of addressing inequality,” Habib enjoined, as he explained the reasoning behind the formation of the scholarship, which aims to bankroll, in its entirety, the tertiary education of talented learners from poor and marginalised communities.
[pullquote align=”right”]”An anonymous R10 million donation was central in getting the scholarship off the ground”[/pullquote]
Habib, however, was quick to emphasise that it was “academic excellence” that formed the basis on which these students were chosen. “We recognise circumstances but you have to recognise merit,” Habib said.
The scholarship will be renewed annually provided the students continue to maintain impressive results.
Minister Motshekga described the scholarships as a way to catalyse “social migration from marginalised communities into high levels of the economy”.
Each student was awarded close to R100 000 per annum, dependent on their academic performance.
Habib revealed that an anonymous R10 million donation was central in getting the scholarship off the ground.
Conceding that even R100 000 was only just enough to cover each students tuition, accommodation and a small number of “incidentals”, and not other costs such as supporting extended families back in the students underprivileged communities, the VC bemoaned the difficulty caused by the fact that the “our inflation of higher education runs ahead of normal inflation”.
He described this as a “big challenge” which in part would have to be addressed through social support structures such as grants.
“We can’t have their education compromised,” Habib stressed, pointing out that some students qualified for other bursaries which could be used to cover additional costs.
Even R100 000 is not enough
The story of one of the scholarship recipients, Thembinkosi Qwabe from Osizweni in Newcastle, KwaZulu Natal, partly illustrates how even a sum as generous R100 000 may not be enough.
Qwabe is one of five children, the first to go to university in his family after scoring 97 per cent in Physical Science and 96 per cent in Maths. He was raised by a single parent, his mother.
Going up: Top achiever Thembinkosi Qwabe will study Chemical Engineering after receiving an Equality Scholarship Photo: Mfuneko Toyana
He explained that she was on the verge of retiring from a job as a receptionist at an auto-repair store. His two elder brothers had finished matric but are unemployed. Qwabe’s two younger sisters are still in school.
He said he did not remember the exact moment he received the news of the scholarship, but he did recall that his family was very happy. His father, whom he had last seen in 2006, knew of his achievements but had not yet contacted Qwabe to congratulate him.
[pullquote align=”right”]“My only wish now is to pass and do well for my family.”[/pullquote]
Dressed immaculately in all red and still reeling, by his own confession, from the gravity of the moment and of being in this large city, Qwabe hinted that it was now up to him to be that “bridge” into a better life for his family.
“My only wish now is to pass and do well for my family,” he said.
Matric learners at the Supreme Educational College in Braamfontein have accused their school of short-changing them by only registering them for five subjects instead of the seven required for a matric certificate.
Wits Vuvuzela interviewed six Supreme College learners, who asked not to be named.
“They are saying we must do five subjects this year and do two subjects next year. This means we cannot apply for university now,” said one of the learners.
The learners said the college’s deputy principal demanded that the they sign a form promising to only take five subjects. The deputy principal threatened to de-register them if they did not sign, according to the learners.
Part-time versus full-time
Nkululeko Ncube, principal of Supreme College, said the school has full time learners who are taking seven subjects and part time learners who are taking only five subjects.
The learners provided Wits Vuvuzela with forms listing the schools full-time and part-time “candidates”. They said they were full time learners however their names appeared on the list for “part-time”.
“We did not sign for part-time. They told us that it is because we will not be able to manage the workload. I don’t understand because we are still taught seven subjects but we will only write five for finals,” another learner said.[pullquote align=”right”]“Every time we ask what is happening we are sent to a different person in management. They all say it is not their concern.”[/pullquote]
Management does the shuffle
The learners told Wits Vuvuzela they asked school officials about why they were only taking five subjects but were refused a direct response.
“They told us ‘that is for us to know’,” one student said.
[pullquote]“The school fee is R800 per month. Learners who agreed to the five subjects are only paying R600. I am still paying R800 but now I am being forced to be part-time.”[/pullquote]Another student added: “Every time we ask what is happening we are sent to a different person in management. They all say it is not their concern.”
The learners said some agreed to take only five subjects because they received a discount on their school fees.
“The school fee is R800 per month. Learners who agreed to the five subjects are only paying R600. I am still paying R800 but now I am being forced to be part-time,” the learner said.
The learners said the school had disregarded their right to choose and did not take their financial status into consideration. The learners admitted that they had become disheartened and had nothing “driving” them to attend classes.
Wits Vuvuzela spoke to a parent who did not want to be named in order to protect her child.
“My child’s education is suffering. She is getting old now. She cannot return again next year. This is not fair.”
Department of Basic Education response
Wits Vuvuzela approached the provincial department of education with the learners’ allegations but were told that regulating independent school’s like Supreme College was difficult. However, the department said that it had made enquiries at Supreme and it found “no evidence” to support the learners’ allegations.[pullquote align=”right”]’You guys think you are clever going around telling people what is going on at the school. Why are you doing that? When you have a problem with your father do you go around and tell the neighbours?’[/pullquote]
“Departmental documents indicate that all 47 learners are registered to write seven subjects this year,” the department said in an email to Wits Vuvuzela.
Following enquiries by the department, the learners alleged that Ncube gathered the matrics and accused them of stirring trouble.
“’You guys think you are clever going around telling people what is going on at the school. Why are you doing that? When you have a problem with your father do you go around and tell the neighbours?’,” the learner recounted.
The learners said their parents were even confused as to what was happening.
“My dad went and asked. They confused him with long answers,” the learner said.
Learners accused the school of fabricating their marks. They said they had not written a third Afrikaansexamin June but had still received marks for it.
Ncube told Wits Vuvuzela that the third Afrikaans exam was not written as the teacher left. The marks on the learners’ report card for the third exam reflected an aggregate of their marks throughout the term.
TEACHERS resigning from the Supreme Educational College in Braamfontein have left matric students stranded just before their preliminary exams.
A parent of two children attending the school, Gideon Ndlovu, said he was concerned his children were not learning anything at the school as teachers were resigning with no replacement staff.[pullquote align=”right”]“Teachers are not getting paid. It’s been two months now. They have been paying us R1 000 instead of our normal pay.”[/pullquote]
He said teachers were leaving because they were not being paid their full salaries as stipulated in their contracts. “My children are complaining, especially the one in grade 12 because she will be writing her matric soon and I cannot transfer them at this stage of the year,” Ndlovu said.
Strange pay agreements
A teacher, who asked not to be named out of fear of being victimised, confirmed that Supreme teachers were not being paid their full salaries.
“Teachers are not getting paid. It’s been two months now. They have been paying us R1 000 instead of our normal pay,” the teacher said.
[pullquote]“We were supposed to sign a paper saying even if they were to pay us R50, we would still teach.”[/pullquote]Three other teachers, who resigned from the school because of not being paid, agreed.
One of them, who asked not to be named, said on July 17 the teachers at the school had a meeting and they decided to give the school management a letter demanding all the money owed to them.
“But the next morning when we arrived there was a security guard at the reception. We were told not to go to the staff room or to the classrooms.”
She said they were told to wait at reception, then called into the manager’s office one by one.
“We were supposed to sign a paper saying even if they were to pay us R50, we would still teach,” said the teacher. She refused to sign the contract and left the school on that day.
When Wits Vuvuzela went to the school, management refused to give their names: “Just refer to us as ‘the school management team’,” they said.
The management team said they had never received a complaint from a parent and were shocked by the allegation that they had no teachers.
They said they had replacements for the teachers who had resigned. They asked Wits Vuvuzela about its sources.
The teacher who is still at the school said he was shocked the school was facing financial difficulties because it received a government subsidy. However, the school was closed for almost a week in April because they had failed to pay the rent.
The school management team denied having financial issues, and said they were paying salaries agreed upon. But in a telephonic interview one of the managers admitted that the school was indeed having financial troubles.
She said the school had lost its subsidy because it received a less than 54% pass rate and they were now dependant on parents paying their fees, which some were not doing.
Management said publishing the article in Wits Vuvuzela would ruin the lives of other students.
“We have more than 20 students who come through these gates every year to learn for their studies. You are just spoiling this process. We don’t want to sit in court and start suing each other,” she said.