Education lobby group Equal Education says they are concerned the departments of education and transport are failing to plan for pupils when rationalising schools.
The NGO said education was failing to carry out proper consultations in some areas, while transport openly admitted their budget would not meet the increased need for scholar transport.
The education lobby group yesterday hosted a seminar aimed at reflecting on the progress made on the school rationalisation and realignment programme in the province.
The seminar – which saw discussions around the progress of rationalisation with the focus on provision of school infrastructure and scholar transport – was held in King William’s Town.
The department is in the process of closing 1902 schools with fewer than 135 pupils and merging them with more viable schools that have more pupils. The department earlier this year announced plans to close 136 schools by the end of this year.
Attending the seminar was a representative from the National Treasury’s government technical assistant centre (GTAC), Phaphama Mfenyana, EE and community members.
EE deputy head Masixole Booi said they supported the province’s school rationalism and realignment if it was done in a “consultative, democratic manner” and was aimed at fixing schools and realising the deadlines outlined by the norms and standards for school infrastructure.
According to the South African Schools Act, the MEC must complete a proper consultation process before closing a public school.
After a school is closed, all assets and liabilities of the school owned by the state must go back to the department of public works to serve other purposes.
The lobby group said community members had complained about a lack of consultation in this process. “Early this year, community members, parents and teachers in different areas where their schools are rationalised have complained about the lack of consultation and community engagement from the department.
“There is no clear plan about things such as scholar transport, which means pupils are forced to walk long distances from home to their new schools,” said Booi.
The Dispatch last week reported about parents from Mhala Public School in Tsholomnqa, who said their children were “dropped by the system” when the education department closed their school and merged it with a school 7km away without providing them with transport.
Some pupils had no choice but to walk to their new school after the old one closed at the end of May.
The parents from Mhala said that even though they were aware the school was listed for closure, they were not informed when the school would close.
Booi said that at a meeting on education district configuration that was held in Port Elizabeth earlier this year, MEC Mandla Makupula had acknowledged that in some areas the process was not communicated well to affected parties.
“This is particularly worrisome, given the immediate challenge of not only school infrastructure in the province but also scholar transport,” said Booi.