Classrooms so packed, kids can’t even hear teachers speak
Schools in the ECape, where often more than 100 pupils crammed into a room, have taken the matter to court
Luyanda Maqegu sits in her classroom at the Dudumayo Senior Secondary School, but she has no space of her own. Here, in the village of Ngcwanguba in the rural Eastern Cape, she shares that class with 140 other pupils.
“I sit in a chair … and write on my lap,” she says. “There are so many of us that there is not enough room for everyone to have a desk. Only about 35 of us have desks.”
Her Grade 11 B2 class has 140 pupils and is one of five classes at Dudumayo that has more than 100 pupils. Two others have more than 90 pupils.
In fact, only the Grade 12 C class, which has 50 pupils, is even remotely close to meeting the government-mandated limit of 40 pupils per class.
This situation – described as unsafe, unhealthy and not conducive to teaching or learning – is laid bare in a court case filed last month at the High Court in Mthatha.
Lodged with the assistance of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), “concerned parents” at Dudumayo, Attwell Madala Senior Secondary School, Enduku Junior Secondary School and Mnceba Senior Secondary School are demanding that the Eastern Cape government and education department urgently address the “severe” overcrowding. They want a combined 77 emergency classrooms built at the four schools.
The education department did not respond to questions sent on Friday and again on Monday, and the LRC told Times Select that opposing papers had, to their knowledge, not yet been filed. The department has until October 9 to indicate whether it will oppose the application, and then another 15 days after that to file its opposing papers.
Maqegu, whose statement is contained in the court papers, which are in Times Select’s possession, continues to describe the situation: “I cannot always hear my teachers when they talk because other learners – particularly those at the back – make noise. Because we are so many, the teacher often cannot identify who it is in the back making noise. Teachers struggle to keep the class in order.”
One of her teachers, Thobeka Balangile, says the situation is equally frustrating for educators.
“Learners need individualised attention. As a teacher, I want to know who my students are and where they come from. But the room is so full of learners that I don’t have room to walk around. Even if there was space to move around I wouldn’t have time to evaluate so many learners. I cannot provide the individualised attention so crucial to the learning process,” she says in the court papers.
A parent at Attwell Madala Senior Secondary, Andreus Ndoyisile Fudumele, says in an affidavit that the overcrowded conditions are similar across all four schools that form part of the court application – and that they are seriously detrimental to the futures of the pupils they affect.
Fudumele, speaking on behalf of the four schools, but specifically about Dudumayo, writes: “As with Attwell Madala SSS and Enduku JSS, the overcrowding negatively impacts both learners and teachers. When desks have been squeezed in, as many as five learners are sitting at desks intended for two. Such extreme overcrowding also poses serious health and safety risks. Learners sit shoulder to shoulder in rooms with little ventilation and no climate control, facilitating the easy spread of illness. There is no space to walk and learners are unable to safely exit the classroom in the case of an emergency.”
Fudumele writes that the Eastern Cape education department is aware of the situation in all four of the schools but that little or no intervention has taken place. The department did not respond to Times Select requests for comment.
However, beyond wanting the situation resolved at these four schools, the Legal Resources Centre also wants to force the department to accommodate more overcrowded schools in its infrastructure plans. To do this, it wants the department to provide it with a list of every school in the Mthatha and Amathole education districts that have, on average, more than 40 pupils per class.
“The court application will, hopefully, lead to a court order which results in classrooms being built at the applicant schools and all overcrowded schools in the Mthatha and Amathole districts being included in the [education] MEC’s plans to implement the Infrastructure Norms,” the LRC said in a statement.
The case has not yet been set down for hearing.