Amasango Career School provides education for impoverished, often abused and neglected children who are marginalized by the legacy of the apartheid and by current South African society. Many of these children have been abandoned by one or both parents, are orphans, and live or make a living on the streets. Thirty of the learners reside at Eluxolweni shelter where children of unsafe and broken homes find refuge. Many are street children who have no stable place to live. Others have been abused by their parents or guardians.
Amasango is registered as a “special school”—that is a “public school for learners with special needs” in terms of section 12(3) of the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996. All of its learners have dropped out of mainstream schools or have been referred to the school because they face extrinsic barriers to learning that are not—and cannot be—addressed in a traditional classroom setting. Such barriers include a lack of trust towards adults, low self-esteem, minimal (if any) parental support, delayed emotional development, inability to concentrate, extreme anger, and in many cases, drug abuse and violence.
Most of the school’s learners display characteristics which are age-inappropriate, lacking the physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills of other children their age. These children have dropped out of learning (or never had the opportunity to join in the first place) because traditional schools are unable to accommodate the diversity of their learning needs or provide the high levels of psychological and social support required to successfully educate the learners.
Amasango often helps children get off the street and into the classroom where they receive an education and develop skills that enable them to be contributing members of society. The school has a long history of successfully rehabilitating street children and other out-of-school children, with many former learners returning to mainstream high schools and one student attending Rhodes University.
The Department of Education’s White Paper No. 6 on Special Needs Education states that the Ministry of Education is committed to providing educational opportunities “for those learners . . . who experience barriers to learning and development or who have dropped out of learning because of the inability of the education and training system to accommodate their learning needs”.
Amasango’s school facilities are desperately lacking. The school has been operating in old railway buildings on the outskirts of Grahamstown since 2001. It is located in an industrial area that is not zoned for education. It is close to a scrap metal yard and numerous factories. There is no safe playground for the children to use and the site is not conducive to a healthy school environment.
There is little space outside the classrooms. There are no sick bays. The books owned by the School are stored in metal trunks and brought into classrooms when learners need to choose a book for a reading period. The trunks are stored in classrooms and hallways throughout the school. The School has no playing field or sports facility. Without sports facilities, there is no physical outlet for learners and no means of gaining self-esteem outside the classroom.
There are also no workshops because of the lack of space. Curriculum for special needs schools needs to include as many vocational learning activities as possible and this requires space for various pieces of machinery. There are no additional rooms that can be made available for counselling or support. The lack of space for counseling is critical given that many of the learners come from broken homes and troubled backgrounds and require counselling services.
The school’s conditions place the teachers under terrible pressure as they have to work in extremely difficult circumstances. A new school building is vital to remove these learners from an unsafe environment and place them into a school with adequate and appropriate facilities and a safe environment where they can gain necessary vocational skills.
2010 Court Order
Amasango has previously obtained two court orders requiring the government to provide it with adequate temporary and permanent facilities. However, the Eastern Cape Department of Education (“ECDOE”) has failed to provide the school with permanent facilities. The Legal Resources Centre (“LRC”) has therefore filed an application with the High Court in Grahamstown in order to seek compliance with the previous court orders.
It is often difficult to implement court orders when multiple government departments must liaise with each other in order to carry out a particular task. In this situation, Department of Education, had to liaise with both the Department of Public Works and the Makana Municipality and it was unclear which department would need to finalize a site for the new school facilities.
After extensive follow ups with various departments, the Department of Public Works stated that an instruction to acquire a property for a school could only come from the Department of Education at Head Office and not from the District office or the principal of a school. It is the DOE that must approach the Department of Public Works, which then must inform the municipality. This clarification enables the LRC to know which department is responsible for the delay.
In the present litigation, the LRC is seeking an order declaring that the ECDOE is in breach of the 2010 court orders, directing them to cure the breach within 30 days, or if they fail to cure the breach, explain why they cannot.
Amasango waits in anticipation.
By Mariam Awan