The Western Cape Department of Education is scrambling to place over 3 800 primary and high school learners ahead of next year and the annual application frenzy once schools reopen.
Despite schools having been closed for nearly a week and the 2022 academic year expected to begin on January 19 in coastal schools, there are still thousands of learners in the province, predominantly high school entrants, who do not have space.
On Tuesday, MEC for education Debbie Schäfer said while her department has made “incredible progress” in placing learners for the upcoming year, there were still unplaced learners.
“There are currently 602 Grade 1 and 3 261 Grade 8 (learners) who still do not have places in Western Cape schools next year,” she said.
“We thank all parents for their patience during this difficult process. For those who are still waiting for a place, we ask that you remain calm and be assured that we are working hard to place the remaining learners.”
During a briefing to Parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education last month, the Western Cape was said to have 29 550 unplaced learners while Gauteng had the highest figure at 276 000 followed by Gauteng at 226 142.
By late November, the WCED had received around 134 612 applications for next year, of which 32 396 were late submissions after the April deadline.
Schäfer said additional classroom capacity and teaching posts have been increased to address the demand.
“To relieve the pressure on placement, we are making 18 640 extra places available in our schools next year through building and refurbishing classes, creating new starter high schools for the placement of Grade 8, and allocating mobile classrooms in the areas of highest demand,” she said.
“We have also added an additional 590 teaching posts from January 1. However we know come January, a large number of additional learners will arrive without any application having been made for them, seeking places in our schools.
“It’s very difficult to predict where these learners will seek places. We have kept teaching posts and mobile classrooms in reserve to deal with the last-minute arrivals.”
Education activist Hendrick Makaneta said: “There needs to be pressure placed on the WCED to resolve the issue speedily so that parents and learners can be free knowing that they have space. If the province cannot address the matter, it should be taken up to the level of the national department.”
“We have no choice but to compel the government to address the (annual) problem of unplaced learners. As activists, we need to be pro-active as well and inform the Human Rights Commission to look into this matter.
“Parents and learners will be frustrated with this delay, we need to call upon parents to be calm until the beginning of January. If they have not received any positive responses, then radical action needs to be taken.”
Schäfer also called on parents to be on the lookout for calls from the department on possible placement offers for their children.
“I urge parents to answer phone calls from the department when officials call with an offer of placement. We are still finding that parents are uncontactable when we want to offer places. If your contact details have changed, please contact your district office immediately,” she said.