Catherine Moema, 69, is only able to answer and check messages on the cellphone her grandchildren bought for her. She is unable to save numbers. Moema’s vision is impaired and when she tried to use the Gauteng online school application system, it was a struggle.
In 2016, the Gauteng education department launched its online admission application system for the registration of pupils in grades 1 and 8. “That is why I say, basibulele [they have killed us]. How can I use the online system, because you walk a long way to get to our library,” she said. Moema lives with her grandchildren and 61-year-old niece, Lina Moema.
“Parents have been forced to compensate for their lack of internet by using public libraries, which have slow, little and most of the time no internet at all,” said Zukiswa Pikoli, the communications officer at public interest law centre Section 27.
“Or they have to use local internet cafes, which charge for usage. Some parents are unable to pay. The department did not consult the public and created the system without the needs of parents and learners in mind. No research or piloting of the system was done.”
Moema, who lives in Tembisa in Ekurhuleni, told New Frame that when she tried to apply for a place in grade 1 for her eight-year-old grandson, Tshiamo, whose parents are deceased, she experienced difficulty.
She said accessing and understanding the digital application process has been a challenge for the sick, elderly and those who are unable to walk. A school administrator who happened to be visiting Moema’s neighbour helped her apply for Tshiamo.
Moema has glaucoma and a cataract operation left her blind in her left eye. She relies on her niece, Lina, to help her see and read. Lina is hard of hearing.
Moema also depends on her 46-year-old neighbour, Molly Matlala, who lives in an extended RDP house with several back rooms that she rents out. She is a mother of two and grandmother to an eight-year-old. When her grandchild was due to start grade 1, she arrived at the school and was told to use the online system. “They gave me an application number. I was asked if I have a smartphone. I said no,’’ she said.
Matlala was told to go to a library or an internet cafe, but couldn’t afford the cafe as she is unemployed and lives on the income she receives from her tenants. But getting on to the internet isn’t the only problem.
“The internet, I do not know it. I won’t even lie. Even if you were to say, here is the computer, I do not know what the computer is for. That is why I say it is a problem as I do not know how to use it.”
She has met with other parents in a similar situation. They all went to the library, which is about a three-hour walk, while a round trip by taxi costs R20. She wishes the department would bring back the old system for applying. They were never taught how the new system works. At the library, the librarians just applied for them without showing them how to do it.
The new online registration system has not improved teaching and learning, said Pikoli. It is about alleviating the administrative burden that schools face.
Addressing the media on 8 January 2019, the Gauteng member of the executive council for education, Panyaza Lesufi, said only 863 schools had spaces available for pupils as most schools had reached capacity. Lesufi said a steady annual increase in pupil numbers had resulted in overcrowding in some schools.
So dire was the situation that pupils at Wierdapark Primary School in Tshwane South had to be relocated to the newly built Centurion Primary School. This was done to temporarily accommodate about 400 grade 8 pupils at Wierdapark, he said.
He added that Johannesburg Central, Tshwane South and Tshwane West were experiencing the most challenging needs. Although it was uncertain when these challenges would be addressed, Lesufi said the department would be attending to the matter.
“Additional funding will have to be found to finance educator salaries, additional classrooms, learning and teaching, support materials and school furniture. Procurement processes are also not instant but can take weeks to complete,” said Lesufi.
But Pikoli says the department’s efforts do not address the issues Matlala and Moema face, along with other parents who find the system inaccessible.
“The system works well for households that can easily access the internet as compared to households that have neither the internet nor a cellphone that can access internet. The struggle currently is equal access to the internet and to the necessary hardware,” said Pikoli.