The department of basic education is set to close thousands of primary and secondary schools throughout the country, the majority in the Eastern Cape, mainly due to the dwindling number of pupils.
Provincial departments have received circulars detailing the number of schools that should either be merged or closed, a move which the department says will save money and optimise available resources.
According to the department’s spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga, more than 3,000 primary schools with fewer than 135 pupils, as well as high schools with fewer than 225 pupils, will either be closed or merged.
“It is also to save money because there is no reason to keep these schools open. If there are two schools that can be merged to reach the required [teacher-pupil] ratio, then that will be done,” he said.
Schools haemorrhaging pupils are mainly in the rural areas of Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West and the Eastern Cape, which leads the pack with more than 1,300 schools facing demise or merger in that province alone.
By January 2017, 508 schools were either merged or closed down in the Eastern Cape, with multimillion-rand schools built as recently as 1994 left to rot and costly stationery and equipment gathering dust.
There were also reports of pupils at Junction Farm School, closed in 2004 in the Cathcart farming area, complaining that their children were unable to get to their new school, 28km away, as there was no transport.
The department said the main reason for the drop in the number of pupils in rural schools was because parents moved to cities, or moved their children to live with relatives in cities.
Mhlanga said the process of closing down or merging schools took at least nine months, as every step had to adhere to rules and regulations.
According to a circular from the Mpumalanga department of education, the school “rationalisation is intended to reduce or eliminate the number of micro schools and merge them with other schools so as to address inefficiencies in the system and improve quality of education”.