10 October 2022
Media statement: Equal Education welcomes commitment from the Department of Basic Education to reduce overcrowding in schools but is distressed that the Gauteng Education Department will not release key information on exactly how bad overcrowding is! #NoSpaceForUs #FixOurSchools
While up to 70 learners are squeezed into a single classroom in Gauteng and at over 30 Gauteng schools learners are staying home on some days because of overcrowding, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) is ducking and diving the handing over of information on exactly how bad overcrowding is in Gauteng’s schools. The GDE is also sitting on details related to how teachers, non-teaching staff and school infrastructure are distributed – information that is crucial to reducing overcrowding.
We welcome the recent recognition by the ruling party – African National Congress (ANC) – and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on the serious problem of school overcrowding, as we have highlighted through our #NoSpaceForUs campaign. At the ANC Policy Conference in July, Chairperson of the ANC’s Education Subcommittee, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, stated that school overcrowding must be urgently dealt with. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has also announced a Special Intervention on Overcrowding in Schools (SIPOS). According to a stakeholder engagement meeting held in August with the DBE’s Director General Mathanzima Mweli, which Equal Education (EE) attended, the budget for the intervention is currently being discussed with National Treasury.
It is clear that overcrowding continues to plague Gauteng schools and undermines learners’ right to basic education. This acknowledgement of the urgency of school overcrowding is in direct contrast to former Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi stating that overcrowding in Gauteng is not such a big problem. On 1 August 2021, Lesufi stated in a media briefing that “out of the 2300 schools in Gauteng, only 57 schools have overcrowding challenges. Schools have been given mobile classrooms and only two to three of the 57 schools still struggle with overcrowding”. While it is promising that school overcrowding is being spoken of more frequently in government spaces, statements like these are alarming and show a lack of understanding by the GDE of what school overcrowding is and how it should be measured.
Up to now, government has tried to reduce school overcrowding mainly by providing mobile classrooms. As our research report on school overcrowding shows, school infrastructure is only one of many variables to consider in reducing overcrowding. Providing hard infrastructure like classrooms is only effective in preventing overcrowding if a school has enough other related resources, such as teachers, non-teaching staff, and furniture. It is for this reason that we sent a request to the GDE more than two months ago for a meeting and to be given information, specifically:
- A list of all overcrowded schools in Gauteng, where overcrowding is measured comprehensively by taking into account factors such as the workload of teachers, and how learners are spread across classes and grades.
- A report and justification on the percentage of teachers and non-teaching support staff that were distributed equitably in 2022.
- A forward-looking infrastructure development plan that takes into account the growth in learner numbers and prioritises infrastructure projects for overcrowded schools.
To date, EE has not received this information or any indication that it is to come despite following up with the GDE on numerous occasions.
The GDE’s non-responsiveness is unfortunately not unusual. After failing to deliver school meals during the COVID-19 lockdown, in 2020 the court ordered provincial education departments to send monthly reports to EE, EELC and SECTION27 so that we could monitor the success of the delivery of school meals. Despite these reports being court-ordered, the GDE repeatedly submitted their reports late. To make matters worse, the reports had very little valuable information. This pattern of disregard shows a severe lack of accountability by the GDE.
EE hopes that with the recent leadership change within the GDE, overcrowding will be taken seriously and addressed urgently. The new MEC, Matome Chiloane, is familiar with the challenges facing learners in Gauteng, given his former role as Education Portfolio Committee Chairperson in the Gauteng Provincial Legislature. We hope to work well with MEC Chiloane and the GDE – this will require openness, transparency and accountability by the GDE to its constituents, which include EE learner members (Equalisers) and other school communities.
We urge the GDE to make the requested information available and to meet with us to discuss interventions on overcrowding and to hear first-hand from Equalisers about the effect that overcrowding has on their ability to learn effectively and realise their right to basic education.
To arrange a media interview, contact:
Jay-Dee Cyster (Equal Education Communications Officer) firstname.lastname@example.org or 082 924 1352