By Zwelihle Sukati | 2019-07-20
School principals made it succinctly clear that they want top-up fees back. There was a deafening round of applause inside the Prince Mfanyana Hall at Manzini Central High School, where Minister of Education and Training Lady Howard-Mabuza convened an urgent meeting with all school principals countrywide.
The purpose of the meeting, according to the minister, was to collect views and suggestions from the administrators on issues affecting the education sector. One topical issue was that of the delays schools had to endure in receiving the Free Primary Education (FPE) grant.
In making their submissions, the head teachers voiced out their concerns that a blind eye was being turned on some schools who were charging parents the top-up fees. They said these schools prospered, while other schools were watched with a hawk’s eye. “How about setting a minimum or maximum fee to which schools can charge parents for top-up fees, for example, E500. This can go a long way in assisting schools operations until the economy stabilises,” said St Francis’ Samson Mthupha.
There was a big round of applause. Another submission was that parents were now totally careless with the welfare of pupils. One head teacher told the minister that parents were now even failing to buy a child’s school shoes. “We can’t have parents ordering pupils to school with no shoes or an old ragged uniform. Not so long ago, I was taken aback when a Grade 1 child came to school wearing a wet uniform, in this cold season,” the speaker said. “When we queried the child on how she got to wear the wet school uniform, the young learner said she washed the uniform herself at night, despite having parents at home. “Can the minister assist us getting parents to the party because even when we call a parents’ meetings they don’t attend.” The ministry’s principal secretary, Dr Sibongile Mtshali, said the meeting with head teachers yesterday was one of a kind. She said it was the first time to have a meeting in such good spirits and feedback will be given in due course.
Consultant engaged on OVC grants
Government has brought in a consultant to look into how the OVC grant can be improved.
This was revealed by Ministry of Education Principal Secretary Dr Sibongile Mtshali during the minister’s meeting with school administrators yesterday. “What schools are getting under this grant is a small amount. Truth is, no child can get quality learning from E1 950, or even E2 500,” Mtshali opened up to the meeting. She said the consultant will engage them in getting their views on how the grant can be improved
Broke govt not better positioned to take over support staff
The financially-ruined government is in no position to take over support staff in schools. This came from Minister of Education Lady Howard-Mabuza in the meeting. She told school head teachers that due to the state’s financial downfall, schools support staff cannot be taken under government payroll.
Instead, she suggested that for those schools with a small enrolment the capacity of support staff need to be looked into. Nonetheless, she was cognizant that precautions should be exercised in trimming down staff or else schools will be flooded with lawsuits.
“We will continue to have discussions on how government can assist schools with support staff when the economy has stabilised,” the minister said. “Government continues to supply schools with food. However, there are disturbing reports that some of the food delivered at times disappears in some schools.”
Opening of new schools, other projects suspended
Government has suspended opening of new schools, adding new class streams as well as starting new projects.
This comes at a time when government froze hiring of staff for vacant posts within government ministries.
Minister of Education Lady Howard- Mabuza minced no words in saying that decision has affected her ministry the most.
She said that circular came about due to the economic challenges government was faced with. However, she said it was agreed that hiring would have to be done in phases as opposed to full scale hiring.
“We have now suspended the opening of new schools, as that comes with hiring costs, equipment and other resources. It is not our desire to have children walk long distances to school. However, it will be more frustrating if after opening new institutions, more resources will be needed but out of reach,” she reasoned.
For over a year, some pupils have been without a teacher
The suspension of hiring new staff to fill vacancies in government, which came about with Circular No.3, proved to be a thorny issue with schools administrators.
The teachers complained that some schools had teachers transferred but never replaced, leaving behind a huge void.
“Why can’t we prioritise the schools that are still growing,” said a teacher from Mnjoli High School, who identified herself as LaNkhambule. It was also heard in the meeting how some pupils at Ncabaneni High School have been attending class for over a year just to count the rafters and warm the furniture.
The head teacher, who could be identified as Nkonyane, said after Religious Education was made compulsory in schools, the situation on the ground has been disheartening.
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