– KwaZulu-Natal’s Chronic Classroom Shortage

Tom Stokes, MPP

DA KZN Spokesperson on Education

HUNDREDS of KwaZulu-Natal schools have class sizes of well over 50 learners while, in some cases, classrooms designed to hold 35 learners are crammed with over 100 senior boys and girls.

This is the shock finding following a parliamentary reply to questions posed by the Democratic Alliance to the province’s Education MEC.

The response provides dismal reading.

Massive overcrowding will have a huge impact on the quality of learning and teaching and severely compromise the future of learners. It is impossible for teachers to adopt a learner-centred approach to teaching in classes of this size and explains why most lessons are didactic in nature, with little meaningful learner interaction with the teachers. The consequence is that learning tasks are dealt with superficially which will inevitably have a stultifying effect on learners’ capacity to deal with complex subjects at higher levels in later years.

A further consequence of classroom shortage is the mismanagement of teaching capacity where the allocation of teachers to schools is determined by the number of learners – the PPN – not the number of classrooms. If a school has 650 learners it will be allocated 20 teachers, but if it only has 10 classrooms, at any particular time in the day half the allocated teachers will be sitting idle as the other half teach classes of 65. For hundreds of schools in the province, and indeed across South Africa, this is a daily occurrence.

This year’s provincial education budget allows for the building of 1 800 new classrooms. Regrettably, the capacity of the Education Department and its main supplier, the KZN Department of Public Works, to rectify this problem in the short-term is poor. The current cost to erect a single classroom, excluding the ground preparation is R300 000. This means that R550 million is needed to build 1 800 classrooms – with as little impact as possible on the total classroom shortage as our school-going population increases. A greater urgency and efficiency is needed when it comes to getting classrooms into the field. The long-term solution is to build fully equipped schools of a superior standard to those that exist today. But there is also an immediate imperative to rescue those tens of thousands of children whose futures are draining away in severely over-crowded classrooms every day.

The DA calls on the MEC to present alternative options to address the rapid supply of classrooms at manageable costs, including the supply of prefab units, at the next KZN education portfolio committee. This problem is too urgent to endure another 18 years of blaming apartheid. We need to jettison this habit of passing the buck and fix what’s broken.

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