By Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu
While most schools are readying their premises for reopening following Government’s announcement on Tuesday, officials at Mawabeni Primary School in Umzingwane District are worried the school blocks may collapse on pupils any time.
Built in 1937 by Methodist Church missionaries, the school has been catering for pupils from seven villages.
Adhering to health measures to ensure pupils do not contract Covid-19 is the least of their worries as the dilapidated state of the school blocks have a greater risk to the lives of 1 075 pupils registered at the institution.
On Tuesday, Government announced that all schools will reopen over the next six weeks in three phases, but with smaller numbers of pupils, more teachers and other health-related measures so that children can resume education without the risk of a spike in Covid-19 infections.
The phased reopening, approved by Cabinet, will be done in three stages. The three examination classes — Grade 7, Form 4 and Upper Sixth — open on September 28 in phase 1 as was announced several weeks ago.
Four weeks later, on October 26, next year’s examination classes — Grade 6, Form 3 and Lower Sixth or Form 5 — open in the second phase and a fortnight after that, on November 9, everyone else goes back to school — ECD A and B, Grades 1 to 5 and Forms 1 and 2.
At Mawabeni, however, pupils are forced to share only 100 small chairs with their teachers and other staff. Even the Grade Seven pupils expected to resume studies on Monday do not have proper chairs and desks for their final and most important examinations at primary level set to start on December 1.
ECD pupils who have since been moved to a nearby church to avoid potential danger, rely on mats as the school cannot afford to give them a proper picture of a standard school set up even at that age.
From the entrance, visitors are greeted by a strong stench coming from the overflowing pit latrines which according to health standards should have been condemned long ago.
The same ECD pupils cannot use these toilets and normally soil themselves and double responsibilities for the already overworked teachers.
Teachers are also not spared from the trauma as some are sleeping in spaces meant for toilets and bathrooms as there are only four houses for the 24 teachers.
They say education is a key but the state of Mawabeni is a classic example of how to foster hatred for school in children who walk up to 6km one way daily for their studies.
Pupils from Mtshede Village walk about 9km; Nyema village 8km, Terryline 10km, Msizini 8km and the furthest from the school are from Irrigation Village who walk up to 12km to and from school every day.
Parents and guardians of these children are struggling to put food on the table and according to school reports, only 40 percent of the registered pupils can afford school fees.
Chronicle caught up with the Mawabeni School Development Committee chairperson Mr Dumisani Luphahla who appealed for help from members of the public to help construct new classrooms before the existing ones collapse on pupils.
A former Mawabeni pupil, who used the same buildings from 1971 to 1977, said it broke his heart to note that the school building was no longer suitable for children and villagers are incapacitated to fix the problem.
He says the school urgently needs building material, furniture, textbooks and water pipes.
Besides the classroom blocks and teacher’s quarters that need to be constructed, Mr Luphahla said the ECD and junior classes need their own toilets tailor-made for their age-group.
He added that given the technological era which the school is operating from, a laptop is also needed to aid clerks to register writing classes online as per requirement.
“We need to demolish some of these cracked classrooms which are now home to anthills as they may collapse on our children any time. These buildings were condemned a long time ago but because of funds we are unable to construct new ones,” said Mr Luphahla.
“We do not have any furniture and our ECD pupils have never sat on chairs because the few which were made for pupils are being used by teachers.
He said pupils did not have textbooks and the school could only afford to buy one textbook per class per subject.
There are three ECDA classes, three ECDB classes, three Grade One classes, three Grade Two classes, two Grade 2 classes and three Grade Four classes.
Mr Luphahla said there are three Grade Five classes, two Grade Six classes and three Grade Seven classes.
“We do not have books and parents cannot afford to pay levies as we speak. We feel pity for our ECD pupils, they have had the worst experience of school and we hope this won’t make them hate school in the future,” he added.
Mr Luphahla said they were in need of running water near the toilets so children have access to water in line with health guidelines following the outbreak of Covid-19.
“We only have four teachers’ quarters and teachers are forced to live in only one room and the unlucky ones sleep in bathrooms. We have eight local teachers which is an advantage for now as they live at their homes but if there are any changes, we will suffer a great deal,” said Mr Luphahla.
The councillor for the area, Elijah Nkala, said the school was struggling and it would be difficult for it to shut down as it catered for most pupils in Umzingwane District.
He added that he, his parents and siblings learnt at Mawabeni and it was important for the community to work harder in ensuring the school continues serving its purpose.
“We will appreciate any form of help to assist us build new classrooms for our children who deserve an education and a bright future. We wish to construct new classrooms even before the onset of the rains because buildings even have leaks,” said Cllr Nkala. The Chronicle