More than 200 schools were listed for permanent closure in the Chris Hani district following a notice by the department of education to officially close 1 142 non-operational schools around the province, as issued in a July gazette.
In a briefing with the media last week Tuesday MEC for the department of education, Fundile Gade, said the department was on a mission to “rationalise and re-align the small, unviable and nonconforming schools in order to efficiently re-organise, utilise and equitably allocate the financial and human resources of the department.”
A 30-day period for interested and affected parties to submit their objections to the notice was given. Gade confirmed during the briefing that 1 122 schools have been closed, with 20 reported to be still operational. This after receiving feedback from affected communities in response to the department’s call.
He indicated that this rationalisation project was a process to reform the institutional landscape of education in the province.
“The issue of re-organising the schooling system cannot be postponed any further. As the department battles with budget cuts brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, it is imperative that we move with speed in tackling all bottlenecks that hinder us from attaining our goals.”
Gade said reasons for the closure, as stated in the gazette, were drastic decline in pupil enrolment and the optimal utilisation of limited state resources, among others. A total of 390 schools, in the same gazette, were listed for purposes of re-alignment or merging.
Gali Thembani Special School in the Madeira Park area was among the 64 schools in Chris Hani east and 177 in Chris Hani west expected to close. A petition by residents of Komani to prevent the closure was circulated on social media.
261 people across the Chris Hani district who were against the closure have signed the petition so far and have supplied reasons therefore.
In their comments, residents said the centre could be utilised as a skills development institution, adding that the closure would have dire consequences. “Special needs schools can be accommodated here,” wrote one concerned resident.
“I believe the institution should not close because it helps children develop certain skills and achieve results mentally and physically. It will keep children off the streets. Where will the children with special needs go?” read another.
Madeira Park resident Malerato Molokoane said: “Being a resident in the area and knowing the facility and the potential it has, we could not allow the closure of this institution. It can be used as a technical school or a special school. The facility has a fully-fledged hostel. Madeira Park is four or five kilometres from town and we have to use clinics in town. Apparently there is a clinic at the facility that can be utilised for emergencies. We have children playing soccer along the N6 which is very dangerous, whereas the facility has a sports ground that would accommodate these young people. We do not understand why the department would want to close.” Molokoane said they would be writing to the MEC to address these concerns.
Border-Kei Chamber of Business administrator and district educational committee member Adre Bartis said a document would be written by the chamber to support the non-closure of the institution. “From a business point of view, if we are looking at the development of our children, the lack of skills that we have in the Enoch Mgijima area, Gali Thembani is definitely needed. If we are looking at it from a special needs facility, it is the only place that will be able to accommodate children with special needs. To take the facility away will be such a waste and an entire loss to the community of Komani.”
Meanwhile, Gade stated that it was crucial for the infrastructure unit to conduct an assessment of the closed schools to prepare for the transfer of the immovable assets to the public works department. “The department is working hard through the school financial management services and accounting services to obtain the banking details for the 1142 schools in an effort to ensure that any money that was transferred to such accounts is returned to the department. It is also critical to ensure that norms and standards funding as well as the school nutrition programme funds follow the pupils to the receiving schools.”