News / Africa

South Africa's Education System Crumbling

A classroom in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province
A classroom in South Africa's Eastern Cape Province

South Africa's public education system shows signs of serious decline. Reports of dismal graduation rates, bad teachers and crumbling buildings are commonplace. Our correspondent reports from Grahamstown that in Eastern Cape Province, one of the poorest regions in the country, the public education system is in chaos.

You cannot tell from the faces of the school children, but their futures are in jeopardy. Many of their public schools in the Eastern Cape are literally falling apart.

Xolile, who goes by one name, runs an organization known as Save Our Schools in Grahamstown. He says everything in the schools is in urgent need of repair.

"Like the toilet system, the classrooms, the desks, the windows - so most things the department can easily fix," said Xolile.

The Provincial Department of Education is in charge of everything relating to public schools .  And based on public speeches, officials seem fully aware of the schools' condition. But an department spokesman told VOA he could not find anyone to comment on the situation.  

Xolile says administrators at  this school have asked for help to fix the boys' bathroom for the past five years. There is no water for the sinks and toilets. The roof has large holes in it. Students beg for help, says student leader Dumisani Papi.  

"We wrote letters to the department," said Dumisani Papi. "We did a lot of stuff as in cleaning the toilets, but no help has come."

These were the bathroom conditions at another school. And it does not seem to be a matter of money. The national government devotes 19 percent of its budget to schools.  

"They do have the money, sir," said Papi. "They do have the money."

This kind of situation is repeated across the province, where much of the school infrastructure is in disrepair.

These students climb through the classroom window because the door is broken.

The problem is even worse in rural areas. Here, most students still go to school in mud structures, even though the government promised to replace all of them years ago. Cameron McConnachie took these pictures.  

He is an attorney for the Legal Resources Center. He explains what happened at one school after the government did take down an old mud school.

"When the contractor arrived, he demolished what did exist," said Cameron McConnachie. "He built the trenches for a new school and then disappeared. They were left with nothing."

This is what is left.  Community leaders complained, but three years later nothing has been done. So they hired McConnachie to sue the education department.

"It almost seems like a disregard for the integrity and dignity of people," he said.

In the meantime, the students learn in temporary shacks of corrugated tin.

"Broken down doors are used as tables, bricks that are strewn around the construction site those are the seats," said McConnachie.

Most schools have a shortage of teachers as well. Nyaluza High School for more than a year has been asking the education department to replace four teachers who were moved to another school. The schools' principal is Mangaliso Nkwinti.

"I don't know how many times we have been to the department," said Mangaliso Nkwinti. "And how many times we have been so angry, talking to them, trying to show them the situation at the school, why we need so many teachers and to improve, which is the bottom line here."

Students at many schools are forced to share the few available books. George Lamani teaches at Nyaluza High School:

"My principal has just explained that we have been systematically knocking at their door, talking professionally with them and they are not listening," said George Lamani.

The average number of students who graduate from high school in Eastern Cape Province is 50 percent. Some schools graduate as few as nine percent of their students.

Derek Luyt runs the Public Service Accountability Monitor that monitors the educational system here. He says another major problem is the quality of the teachers.

"Those who teach the teachers are not well qualified and the teachers themselves are not qualified and all of that obviously leads to poor education in the classroom," said Derek Luyt.

These students will graduate in December. They know the outlook is grim.

"It's a very little chance that many of us can make it," said Dumisani Papi.

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