Western Cape schools are facing a teaching crisis that could result in a chaotic start to the new school year if the Education Department does not take note of teachers' concerns.
This was the point made at a meeting of concerned teachers at Alexander Sinton High School in Athlone last week. The meeting was not the first of its kind to be held after the Western Cape Education Department scrapped 150 ad hoc, or contract, teaching posts in the province.
These posts had mainly been created to address the problematic shortage of teachers at schools in disadvantaged communities. The Education Department has converted the ad hoc positions into permanent positions.
All schools, however, including those in more affluent communities, are now tapping into the pool of 150 teachers, with the result that schools in poorer communities are experiencing dire staff shortages.
A high school in Grassy Park has lost five teachers while its neighbouring school, Fairmount High, lost three including its deputy principal.
The loss of ad hoc posts is forcing the hand of schools to drastically increase school fees in communities where schools "are elated if they get 60% of their school fees in," one teacher said.
Clive Stadler from Grassy Park High School said that, while the school had initially planned to budget for increased security, it has had to shift its focus to accommodate the loss of teaching staff.
"We have had to increase our school fees from R1?000 to R1?600 for the new school year to be able to pay for the extra teachers," Stadler said.
Russell Bell from Salt River High School said that by stripping high schools of ad hoc posts, the department was "destabilising our schools".
"We are concerned about the lack of urgency from the department's side to get back to us. All we want is for them to reinstate our teachers," Bell said.
Owen Bridgens, from Mondale High School, said that money should be spent on teaching, not extra equipment.
"The key to education is not to put computers in our schools but to ensure that you have both the quality and quantity of teachers to teach the pupils," he said.
"With the current numbers of teachers at previously disadvantaged schools there's no way we can give our learners a fair shot. I have an English teacher at my school who teaches seven different classes. I say to the department: You can take your computers back any time and give us more teachers instead," Bridgens said.
Apart from the problems schools have faced over the past few months, more fuel is being added to the fire as schools are unable to adequately plan for the new school year.
At this stage schools are still unable to advertise their vacant posts, which are usually publicised by this time each year, due to uncertainty about the number of vacancies schools will have.
This has also meant that schools are not able to plan their timetables for the new year, a situation which will have knock-on effects as delays in planning prolong the start of classes for learners which then creates a work backlog later in the school year.
The group of concerned teachers is to hold a placard demonstration outside the WCED's offices in Cape Town at 14:00 on Monday, 27 November.