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‘forgotten school’

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‘We are the forgotten school because the department never mentions us or includes us anywhere in its annual school programmes’

PUPILS at JJ Adams Intermediate School in Mier, where up to 70 pupils allegedly share a classroom, were “dismissed” by disgruntled community members this week.

According to the community members they have written letters on several occasions to the Northern Cape Department of Education outlining their concerns but have received no feedback.

On Tuesday morning the pupils were sent home by the community members and they called on the department to account for its responsibilities and have threatened that there will be no schooling until the department addresses their concerns.

The community described the facility as “the forgotten school”, adding that the department had done nothing to address the issue of overcrowded classrooms. They claimed that up to 70 pupils have to share a classroom.

Mobile classrooms, that they say were promised by the department, have not been delivered.

Another area of concern is the general workers at the school, who are reportedly being paid between R60 and R70 a day by the school governing body (SGB) and not by the department.

The community members claimed that the department had “ignored” a submission by the Department of Labour that the workers be paid the national minimum wage of R20 an hour.

One of the workers, Jan Philander, a married father of one child, said his working hours were reduced instead of the department paying him the minimum wage.

Philander has been working at the school since 2016. He said he was volunteering before being recruited by the school principal to work on a permanent basis. “I agreed as I was promised that I will get first preference once appointments were made.

“I persevered until the Department of Labour came to do an inspection and said we should be paid the minimum wage of R20 an hour. It was also recommended that we be employed on contract basis as the SGB was not supposed to pay us.”

According to Philander the school opted to decrease his hours as well as that of another general worker and four hostel workers.

Community members also called on the department to replace a faulty water tank at the school and to erect a fence around the school for the safety of the children.

They added that a generator was needed, while a request was also made to start an ABET school in support of promoting education for adults.

“We are the forgotten school because the department never mentions us or includes us anywhere in its annual school programmes.”

The Northern Cape Department of Education refuted the claims and said a request was received from the school in October 2019 to which the department had responded.

Department spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe also dismissed claims that classrooms are overcrowded, stating that the school has a total of 16 ordinary classrooms and 521 pupils (in 2019), which provides an average ratio of 32 pupils per classroom.

“Therefore, in terms of infrastructure, there is a sufficient number of classrooms. There is however no ECD classroom and this was prioritised for the 2021/22 financial year, subject to the availability of funds in the budget.”

In reply to the call for an upgrade to the sanitation system, Van der Merwe said that the delivery unit had been requested to visit the school and assess the situation so that it could be addressed.

According to Van der Merwe, other requests included the upgrading of the electricity infrastructure, classrooms and furniture and a steel palisade fencing.

“Maintenance to the value of R2.6 million was done over the past few years at both the school and the hostel and included fixing the roof and broken windows.”

He added that the school does receive funding for maintenance.

Regarding the fencing, he said the school was visited in July 2019 and it was established that the current wire fence was still in a good condition.

“It is a proper fence as it is, as per the standard, higher than the minimum of 1.8m. The school requested a steel palisade fence due to the possible risk of criminals gaining access. There were however no instances reported.”

He said the department would, however, request the security unit to do an assessment on the school’s risk profile and, subject to the recommendation received, a decision will be made and communicated.

“The department in 2015 replaced the water tank with a 45 000 litre steel water tank and in 2016 the water pipes were also repaired. This tank is still operational and was in good condition when the school was visited in July 2019,” Van der Merwe concluded.

No comment was received with regard to the employment of the general workers.