29 September 2021 – LRC asks court to enforce 2020 order on classroom provision within 30 days; ECDOE head to account before court for failure to deliver

For Immediate Release

29 September 2021

MAKHANDA — Nineteen months since a February 2020 order directing the Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education (ECDOE) and others[1] to, within 90 days, provide 65 classrooms to four severely overcrowded schools in the Transkei region of the Eastern, the LRC has had to institute legal proceedings in the Mthatha High Court requesting the order’s enforcement.

The ECDOE vowed to ensure delivery of the classrooms three years ago. To date however, only 17 classrooms have been built at only one of the four schools. During this period, the schools remain severely overcrowded. Approximately 3000 learners are either subjected to poor learning conditions or are not attending school at all due to rotational classes that have been implemented to curb the spread of Covid-19. The learners are struggling to learn and are under severe stress in classrooms, leading to some of the high dropout rates reported across the country. The harm caused by overcrowding has been aggravated by the Covid-19 regulations which have forced overcrowded schools to allow only a fraction of their learners to attend school each day. The problem is further exacerbated by the realignment process which sees grade 8 and 9 learners at local junior secondary schools being forced to enroll at high schools which, historically, only catered for grades 10 to 12. For example, Dudumayo High School in Mqanduli has seen their enrollment of grade 8 learners more than double from 75 in 2020 to 157 in 2021. Despite this increase, no more classrooms were provided. The result is that learners attend school on less than a quarter of the days they are supposed to attend. This has been going on for well over a full academic year. Without a doubt, if these schools received the classrooms that the court ordered the ECDOE to provide 19 months ago, learners would be able to attend classes far more frequently, and in some cases, they could return to full attendance. The schools are also convinced that it would reduce the dropout rate.

The applicant schools now ask the court to declare that the state is in breach of the February 2020 order since ECDOE has failed to observe and comply with a binding court order, and that the state be directed to remedy the breach by providing the classrooms within 30 days. If the breach is not remedied, the applicants want the court to direct the ECDOE head of department, Dr Naledi Mbude, to appear in court within 14 days to explain the reasons for the breach and to confirm when the classrooms will be provided. The ECDOE attributes the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic as the main reason for its failure in providing the classrooms. However, the ECDOE failed to respond to this crisis when it was brought to their attention by the LRC in 2018. The Covid-19 pandemic can therefore no longer be used as an excuse. The state has had many opportunities to resolve the overcrowding at the schools and has been aware of the irreparable harm this causes to learners’ learning potential. This unfolding tragedy was, and still is, avoidable. The immediate delivery of the classrooms is critical as it would make a significant difference to the lives and education of thousands of learners.

[ENDS]

Issued by the Legal Resources Centre

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