Accompanied by senior management from the provincial administration, Minister Kiviet received an update on progress toward establishing a fully-fledged agricultural school for the benefit of farming communities in Patensie, in the agricultural stronghold of the Gamtoots Valley in the Kouga Local Municipality, Eastern Cape province.

Minister Kiviet’s visit to the Patensie Agricultural School yesterday marked the second leg of her Outreach programme to schools in the area, beginning at the nearby Hankey Secondary School the day before. As was the case at Hankey, the day’s programme similarly ensured that community members benefited from the Services on Wheels integrated service delivery channel, which involved the participation of the departments of labour, home affairs, social development, health and the South African Police Service.

The two schools share similar demographic profiles and face almost the same challenges. However, much of the update Minister Kiviet received from the Patensie School Management Team (SMT) focused on the school’s readiness to become a fully-fledged agricultural school for the region.

A report presented by the SMT painted a litany of obstacles to Patensie’s goal of becoming a school which offers an appropriate agriculture-oriented curriculum and for which it was established in 2018. According to the acting principal who spoke on behalf of the SMT, the biggest obstacle is that the school is still squatting on the same piece of land that its sister primary school had kindly offered some five years ago.

Consequently, in addition to the irony of an agricultural school without land for practical use in line with its educational mandate, the school suffers from a dire shortage of classroom space, which affects the quality of existing learning outcomes. It has adopted a rotation timetable, which makes it possible for the school to squeeze the current 601 learners into 14 classrooms, of which two are unusable, according to the acting principal.

The disruptiveness of the rotational system (which means learners take turns in attending school) and the challenges of transporting learners from far-flung farm communities significantly contribute to high levels of dropouts from the school, which is one of the issues that Minister Kiviet raised as a concern that requires urgent attention.

In her remarks, the Minister reminded the SMT and all the Patensie Agricultural School stakeholders that the post-1994 constitutional dispensation has promised to “heal the divisions of the past” that particularly run deep in the country’s agricultural regions, as is the case in the Patensie community. She called upon all stakeholders to double up efforts and use their influence to ensure that the divisions of the past are healed by making sure that Patensie Agricultural succeeds. On the positive side, the ward counsellor reported progress in securing the school’s land with a local farmer’s help.