With social distancing the order of the day in the new normal, Ramokgonami Junior Secondary School students have been forced to use their blankets as makeshift mattresses and share beds.
The situation has left the school’s leadership, parents and the students worried in the era of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The situation is so dire that it has pushed the school authorities to seek donations to rectify the state of affairs.
Ramokgonami JSS School Head, Tshegofatsa Batisani confirmed the crisis saying the concern backdates to a time before she joined the school in 2017. The school’s boarding enrolment is 401 with 204 being girls and 197 boys.
“At the moment we have a shortage of 217 mattresses; 157 for the boys’ and 60 for the girls’ hostels. The ministry has assisted with only 99 mattresses, which were equally shared by both hostels and the shortage still persisted mostly in both hostels though the boys’ hostel is the hardest hit,” she said.
Asked when the Ministry of Basic Education is planning to supply the school with more mattresses, Batisani said they have submitted a request to the ministry. However, she could not state when the ministry will come through for the school, especially that the problem is rampant in most boarding schools.
The school head stated that the unavailability is a serious challenge to students because they sleep on bare metal beds. She stated that students with enough blankets are using them as cushioning from and a barrier between their bodies and the metal. She said this defeats social distancing in the dormitories in the COVID-19 era.
Asked what could have contributed to the shortage Batisani revealed that when sludge was removed from pit latrines in the boys’ hostels, ruined mattress pieces were part of the sludge. Batisani stated that the school does not have enough funds to issue toilet papers on a daily basis to the boarding students.
“It is suspected that the students might be using mattresses as toilet papers. Boarding students are issued toilet papers fortnightly,”
Member of Parliament (MP) for Sefhare/Ramokgonami, Dr Kesitegile Gobotswang confirmed to be aware of the situation.
“I am aware of the school’s condition. I have visited the school several times to inform myself of the problems bedeviling the school, student welfare and their performance. The situation is so bad, students do not have mattresses at all and have opted to share beds making mattresses out of their own blankets,” he said.
Gobotswang said not only has the school run out of mattresses, it is also dilapidated with no chairs, tables, broken windows to mention but a few. He stated that the school seriously needs maintenance.
He noted that it is of great concern that in the middle of the pandemic and the winter season, students still struggle without proper accommodation. Gobotswang said the school’s condition is similar to a number of schools in his area.
“Students bathe with cold water in this winter season. Only of recent the school decided to make fire to warm water for students just because of COVID-19. Otherwise, they could be bathing in cold water in these extremely cold morning temperatures,” he said.
The area MP said what hurts him the most is that most of the boarding students are from villages in Shoshong area, where a majority of are from poverty-stricken families that go without enough blankets.
Gobotswang said following his first term as the area MP he decided to take a significant part of the budgeted P10 million of constituency development fund to maintain some schools in his area. He disclosed that a majority of schools in his constituency are faced with challenges reflected by their poor results.
He stated that the school’s pass rate is at low a 26%, a performance rate that has persisted for years.