The desperate pleas for assistance from a Cape Town school, which has around 70 students in a single class, might be addressed not long after the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) put in dire demand for additional staff.
“We met the department this morning at the district office, with senior officials,” said Aleem Abrahams, principal of Bergville Primary School in Bishop Lavis.
“I am very thankful to the department for responding so positively,” said Abrahams.
On the first day of school on Wednesday, a group of parents and teachers picketed outside the school, mainly to complain that there was only one teacher for 72 Grade 4 pupils.
They handed over a memorandum of demands, which also asked that urgent attention be given to safety at the school because it tried to cope with gangsterism in its surrounds, and concerns over the mental well-being of staff and pupils, given the difficult circumstances that they worked in.
Protesters felt that schools in wealthier areas would not have to struggle the way that they did to secure enough teachers.
WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the department’s district office applied for another teacher post for the school and they were confident that it would be approved.
“The district has supported their application, which was submitted yesterday, for an additional assistant post as their learner numbers have now climbed over 400,” she said.
They don’t know when the new teacher will arrive, but Abrahams said it meant they would be able to put the pupils back into two classrooms instead of keeping them in the school hall.
On Wednesday, he said that trying to teach in a school hall was near impossible. He likened it to little more than controlling a crowd.
Abrahams was so excited that they were already starting to get two adjoining classes ready to move the pupils there.
“We will work overtime if we have to,” he said.
Extra teachers in the reserve
Hammond explained that the department kept extra teachers in reserve at the beginning of the year because they were never absolutely sure how many pupils would arrive at each school on the first day.
Some parents register their children at more than one school.
In the next few days, a form will go out to parents so that a final count can be made and they can decide which schools need the extra teachers.
There is also another rush expected at the end of January because some parents and carers have to wait until payday to cover travel costs home and get the children back in school.
Next week they will meet again with the school to discuss the safety concerns and on Wednesday, went through the psychological support that was available through the school’s wellness programme.
Employee wellness service
In the meantime, teachers are urged to make use of the department’s employee wellness service on 0800 111 011.
For the 2017/18 financial year, 798 people used the service and stress topped the list of reasons to contact them, followed by personal relationship problems, work relations and performance management issues, and trauma.
Group trauma debriefing sessions took place at schools across the province. Incidents that led to group trauma debriefing sessions were: loss of pupils; loss of teachers; hijacking; stabbing; violence; armed robbery and gang violence.