North West Department of Education can’t cope with ageing school infrastructure

North West Department of Education can’t cope with ageing school infrastructure

The Department of Education in the North West says it does not have sufficient budget to address over 640 complaints relating to poor infrastructure in public schools.

During its presentation at the South African Human Rights Commission’s provincial investigative inquiry into allegations of inadequate infrastructure in public schools, the department said that it has been allocated only 1.24 billion rand to build new schools and refurbish others.

The Department also revealed that asbestos fixtures in over 100 schools in the province have still not been demolished.

The South African Human Rights Commission’s provincial investigative enquiry follows numerous allegations of non-compliant infrastructure in various schools in the province.  Complaints raised by various stakeholders, including school governing bodies and teachers’ unions, highlighted deteriorating buildings, shortages of classrooms, asbestos fixtures, and  a lack of access to sufficient water and basic sanitation.

Complaints about old plumbing systems have been raised, “Old, outdated galvanized plumbing system, the overflowing drainage, toilets, sewage system blockages on a continuous basis especially when you want to go and come and visit during break time.”

Another person adds, “Learners from grade r share a toilet with learners from grade 7 so I think the department of education from the head to the district level need the commission to intervene and assist because if the head is not functioning how will the body function.”

Complaints lead to South African Human Rights Commission Inquiry

The provincial manager of the Human Rights Commission, Osmond Mngomezulu, says such complaints led the Commission to conduct its own investigations.  “It’s a worrying picture. It’s exactly what we uncovered throughout the years in our investigations. We’ve also conducted monitoring on the ground and took the pictures that we flighted in the slides in this investigative process. It shows a picture of dilapidated buildings, cracked buildings, floors, basically a collapsed state of infrastructure in our schools in the province.”

In its response to the concerns raised, the Department of Education stressed that while some temporary measures were in place to address infrastructure challenges in public schools, permanent solutions have also been sought within the limited budget available.

Acting chief director for infrastructure at the Department of Education, Shela Makwela, elaborates. “We have 644 complaints or needs that we have received and at the current moment we don’t have sufficient budget to address those. However, we are at a point where we are also looking at equitable share to see if we cannot really get from equitable share… so we are allocated 1.24 billion and we have allocated 30 million for  the initial process of initiation stage…with the budget that is allocated to us this financial year we are doing  17 upgrades at the value 24 million .”

Makwela says there are also plans to demolish asbestos fixtures in affected schools. “We’ve identified 108 schools that still have asbestos. it might be roof structure, it might be  block. And mostly these schools are in the area of Dr KK. We have procured mobile classrooms so that we can take out learners out of those classrooms and we have started with the process of appointing the consultants or the PSPS to assist us in terms of planning and assessment. The plan chair is to demolish them.”

The Department of Education says it intends to also conduct its five-yearly assessments in schools to determine the current state of public schools’ infrastructure in the province.

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