By Minister Debbie Schäfer, Western Cape Minister of Education:
On Wednesday, close to a million learners are expected to arrive at schools across the Western Cape to begin the 2016 school year.
The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has been working hard to ensure that its schools are prepared, so as to ensure a smooth start to the academic year.
Furniture and equipment, as well as textbook orders, were made well in advance so as to ensure early delivery at schools before the end of last year. The WCED issued staff establishments to schools in August last year to enable them finalise their timetables for 2016.
The enrolment process began earlier than previous years, with the majority of learners enrolled well before June 2015.
Despite these preparations, there will always be unexpected circumstances that will require additional attention and resources.
It is well known by now that every year the WCED has a certain percentage of late enrolments.
Some of these late enrolments are learners from within the Province whose parents have either moved recently or have not yet enrolled their children, despite repeated calls by myself and the Department to do so last year.
A large majority of late enrolments, however, have historically been from outside the Province with parents choosing to move to the Western Cape in search of job opportunities and a better education for their children.
At the beginning of every year we see approximately 20 000 new learners from other provinces enrolling at schools in the Western Cape. This presents numerous challenges for our officials and schools, as we have to make last minute plans to ensure these learners are accommodated and have the necessary resources that we provide to every learner in the Western Cape.
An additional challenge is to do this within the budget frameworks of the Western Cape Government.
On average, it costs R12 000 per year to educate each learner in the Western Cape. This includes norms and standards allocations and educator salaries averaged on a per learner basis.
The influx of 154 891 learners over the last five years, for example, has therefore cost the Western Cape Government an additional approximated R1.85 billion.
In addition, we need to build more schools to accommodate more learners in the Province. Schools, on average, cost around R50 million per school to build.
While this Province has managed the increase in learner enrolment over the past few years, we are now under immense financial strain.
The equitable share formula does take into account learner numbers, but it is always a few years behind. So we are faced with the immediate challenge of providing for increased enrolments before additional finances are actually “phased in”.
The demand for additional schools and maintenance needs of existing schools is an immense challenge in the Department’s current financial environment.
Given the Western Cape’s improved matric results across indicators of quality education, and the enrolment enquiries we have already received this past week, we are expecting even more learners to come into the Province this year. There are also a number of late enrolments from parents from within the Province.
There is no way of knowing how many additional learners will require placement, the areas in which they will settle, or their ages and grades. We will have to, at short notice, find accommodation for these learners, as well as arrange the necessary resources they require.
This will not be a short term process.
Only once we have determined the areas, ages and grades of the learners, can we find spaces in schools that still have accommodation, order new mobile classrooms and find new sites on which to place them.
Mobiles will then need to be built, additional teachers deployed, desks and chairs ordered, and additional textbooks ordered and printed. Mobile classrooms cannot be procured and erected overnight. We do not know where learners are going to go, and can thus not move these classrooms until such time as we know exactly where they are needed.
These are just some of the challenges we will face in the coming weeks – all with a strained budget and already oversubscribed schools in some areas.
We therefore caution parents who are enrolling their children late, for whatever reason, that there will be delays in enrolling their child at a school.
While we will try our best to speed up this process as quickly as possible, the fact that their child has been enrolled late has not afforded us the opportunity to plan in advance, as we have done for other learners that enrolled early last year.
The WCED has an obligation to assist all parents with placement of their children. This however does not mean that we guarantee a place in a school of choice, even if these schools are the closest to their new home.
We urge all parents who have not yet registered their children to please report to their nearest district office immediately to register their child’s details so that we can place them as quickly as possible as well as order the necessary resources.