KZN school functionality inspections raise concerns around learner safety during pandemic

Issued by Dr Imran Keeka, MPL – DA KZN Spokesperson on Education
18 Feb 2021 in Press Statements

Oversight inspections of schools in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), conducted by the Democratic Alliance (DA) during the past two days as part of a provincial Legislature initiative, as well as for a further two days individually, have revealed schools that are still not properly prepared in terms of Covid-19 regulations, amid other serious issues.

The oversights come a week after the national Education portfolio committee visited KZN to conduct their own inspections, leading to a call by the DA to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to get its house in order and ensure that schools safely reopen for learners on the 15th of February.

It is clear that this message did not filter down to KZN’s Department of Education (DoE), with the result that the DA has serious concerns around whether the Department was ready to begin the 2021 school calendar. This is evidenced by the following findings.

• At Dlangani High School in the Harry Gwala District, the DA discovered that only 42 masks had been received for 694 learners. The supplier meanwhile informed the Deputy Principal that the masks delivered were for educators only and that he had delivered them ‘because some people are coming to check on the school’. The same school is also short of six classrooms which is affecting Grades 8,9 and 10 teaching and learning, even with the platooning system in place.

There are also insufficient mobile handwashing stations, while those that exist are of poor quality, with many leaking. This is a problem that was encountered at several schools visited this week. DoE officials have advised that they will need to check whether there are guarantees in place for these items. A lot of money was spent on them and the DA is alarmed that officials do not, at this stage, even know whether warranties are in place. These hand-washing stations were only delivered last year. Those that do not work properly or are broken must be removed and replaced as a matter of urgency.

• At Moses Zikhali Secondary in Mbazwana, the DA found 46 children stuffed into a 10 x 10 metre classroom (see photo here). At Celani Primary in Madadeni we found 25 learners in a small classroom. These are examples of a direct breach of Covid-19 protocols which require a maximum of 20 learners per class and we expect MEC Kwazi Mshengu to intervene as a matter of urgency.

• At Woodlands Primary in Pietermaritzburg, the DA found that the school’s PPE was insufficient with no sanitizer or classroom disinfectant delivered and that it has only received half the masks it was due. To add to this, the school is constructed with asbestos – a finding at several of the schools visited. Meanwhile the toilets are also broken and without proper walls (see photo here). This is a disgrace given that this school was scheduled R46 million upgrade in 2018, which is yet to begin. The school also draws from a poor community, yet it is classified as a quintile 5 school, thereby disadvantaging learners. This must be addressed without delay.

• At Siyathuthuka Primary in the Amajuba district, the DA found an open pit which was dug last year to build toilets. Shockingly, it has been left open since them and has been allowed to become a deep pool (see photo here). In a primary school with hundreds of young children, this is a disaster waiting to happen. The area was apparently only fenced off last week in preparation for the Legislature’s visit.

Broader challenges as a result of the pandemic, which emerged during the past two days, include an increase in the learner drop-out rate as a result of the prolonged lockdown. In addition, at Mbasela Primary in Machobeni, Durban, there was no teaching and learning taking place due to conflict between teachers and the school management. The MEC must get to the bottom of this issue so that learning and teaching can resume as a matter of urgency. He must not allow union matters to get in the way of the efficient delivery of education.

Added to this is the overall issue of schools failing to spend money on repairs and maintenance, as per norms and standards. At KwaMnayandu Primary School in Pietermaritzburg the DA found Grade R toilets which are shockingly sub-standard (see photo here) as a direct result of this.

Meanwhile, at Enkumba Primary in the Harry Gwala district, learners are forced to use pit toilets while vandalism is rife. There is also no internet connectivity for the school’s learners. This was witnessed in many schools – so much for the ANC’s big talk of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The issue of learner transport also continues to affect far too many KZN learners, with the official figure suggesting that 130 000 children need the service. The real figure may be much higher. Yet we still have learners crossing rivers to get an education, despite government’s commitments to make sure this does not happen.

Regrettably, many of the challenges identified by the DA during the past two days, have existed for years. The fact that we are now also dealing with a global health pandemic has only compounded the situation. While the oversights focused primarily on the obvious, there is also the silent aspect of what this virus is doing to our educators and learners.

At Christianen Primary in Clermont, the DA found a school that has lost four teachers and a food handler due to Covid-19. Despite the severe effect that this has had on staff morale, the DoE has not yet arranged any form of counselling for them. This is a major oversight on their part.

It is critical that KZN’s learners are afforded the least disruptive academic year possible. For this to happen, the DoE will need to make sure that it is 100% on top of its game. This means that MEC Mshengu and his officials need to work directly with the schools we have identified above and assist them as much as possible and without delay.

If KZN’s provincial government is serious about fighting Covid-19, then all schools must be supplied with sufficient, quality PPE to avoid a situation where such environments become super spreaders of the virus. The DA remains committed to working with MEC Mshengu and his Department to ensure this. There can be no excuses when so much is at stake.