While the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education will commence schooling on 15 February, Parliament has called on the province to urgently resolve several outstanding concerns.
“The work done by the department is commendable and we are satisfied that teaching and learning will commence in earnest come 15 February. But there remains areas of concern that need urgent action to be resolved to make the system full-proof ready for the first day,” basic education parliamentary committee chair Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba said on Thursday.
Mbinqo-Gigaba said some of the areas of concern that need urgent attention included the provision of transport for pupils, provision of water, the completion of placing children in schools, and filling vacant positions within the schooling system.
The committee was particularly concerned with “the inability of the provincial department to provide all the qualifying learners with scholar transport”.
“It was informed that due to budgetary constraints, the department can provide transport for only 62,070 of the qualifying 117,000 learners that require transport in the province.”
In order to address this ongoing transport debacle in the province, the committee urged the department to approach National Treasury.
“Permanent solutions must be found for this problem, especially considering that 70% of schools in KZN are in rural areas and they consist of learners largely who come from poor family backgrounds,” Mbinqo-Gigaba emphasised.
Mbinqo-Gigaba also expressed concern over 1 109 teacher vacancies that exist at various levels in KwaZulu-Natal.
She said it was concerning in the context that there were only 11 days left before opening day and there “might be no teachers in some classrooms on the opening day”.
To mitigate the problem, the committee urged the department to urgently complete the process of placing surplus teachers.
They also highlighted concern over the 1 845 pupils still not placed at schools.
“The sooner those learners are placed, the better as it will allay uncertainties facing the parents of those learners.”
Also worrying, the committee said, was the challenge of the non-provision of water to schools in the province.
Regarding the provision of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to schools, Mbinqo-Gigaba said the committee was assured by the department that all the PPE material would be delivered to schools by 5 February.
“In welcoming that, the committee told the department that the delivery of the PPE to schools on time will certainly add a remarkable value in the broader scheme of efforts to fight the transmission of Covid-19. The committee has urged the department to ensure the availability of the PPE at schools.”
Responding to the statement by Parliament, department spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa said they were “making final touches as we prepare for the schools reopening”.
“We welcome the oversight visit by the legislative sector and we are working round the clock to ensure smooth return of learners to school. There has been a great progress so far. Safety is a non-negotiable in the education system.”