For Leleti Novel, an unemployed single mother of two, the flaws in the Gauteng Department of Educationâ€™s (GDE) new online registration system will continue to haunt her throughout the school year.
The R350 per month taxi fare she has to pay for her son, Nitho, to go to and from Nghunghunyani Comprehensive School in Tshiawelo, Soweto, is well beyond what she can afford â€“ and a direct result of the faulty system. â€œHe was supposed to go to Protea Glen, but now heâ€™s gone to Tshiawelo because of the registration thing. I suffer every day for money to get him transport because all the schools in Protea Glen were already full,â€ she told The Daily Vox.
But it wasnâ€™t because Novel registered her son too late that he didnâ€™t get placed in a school close to his home. Last year, the department introduced the online registration system for pupils going into grade one or eight. The problems experienced by parents who tried to use the system were widely published, as many complained that it wasnâ€™t user friendly and crashed repeatedly.
The struggle was exacerbated for those with limited access to computers and internet. Novel tried to complete the online registration numerous times on her old Samsung cellphone, but each time, the system crashed.
When she eventually ran out of data, she tried to use someone elseâ€™s computer, but was unsuccessful there too. Out of desperation, she went to the departmentâ€™s district office in Soweto where, she says, she was sent from pillar to post.
â€œThe first time I did it with my phone, it was October. Then I went myself to the district to ask whatâ€™s going on. They said I must go back in November. I went in November and then they asked me to come again on December 15. When I went on December 15 they said the lines have closed already, I must come back on January 9.â€
When Novel returned to the district office on 9 January, two days before schools reopened, she was told that her first choice of school, Protea Glen Secondary School, was already full and that Nitho would have to attend at the Nghunghunyani Comprehensive School.
Nitho, who had walked to Faranani Primary School in the past, would not be able to walk the approximately 10km stretch to his new high school. â€œNow I must find the money for transport every day. Iâ€™m not working. I sometimes do laundry or ironing or clean houses for people to get money. I preferred the old system.â€
A closer investigation revealed that it was not only parents with limited access to computers and internet who battled with the new system.
Nathalie De Moraes, whose daughter, Megan, started grade one at Rivonia Primary School, told The Daily Vox how, despite having a fast internet connection, she battled to register. â€œI tried the whole day on a fast [internet] line and I kept getting taken out. Youâ€™d put the name in and then it would crash. Or you would just get to the end and it would crash again. Then you put your details in and when you go back and nothingâ€™s there. Or it would just freeze. It was very frustrating.
â€œIf you do it on your phone youâ€™re screwed. You actually have to get to a proper computer and a fast lineâ€¦ otherwise youâ€™re really going to struggle. My friend had to take time off work to come to my office to do it because she didnâ€™t have a fast internet connection and it kept crashing,â€ she said.
Thabang Riba, a sales rep from Soweto, and his bookkeeper wife, Loratoâ€™s attempts to register their son, Lesego, for grade eight were also unsuccessful. â€œYou find that the system is always down. If not, when you go in, you go through the system and you cannot complete the application. I was using my phone whilst my wife was using the computer at work. Both of us were having the same problem.â€
Riba eventually took three days off, starting on January 9, and queued at the departmentâ€™s Pimville offices in order to register Lesego manually. He was lucky enough to enrol Lesego into their first choice, Daliwonga Secondary School.
Riba described the long queues of frustrated parents who had been unable to register their children. â€œWeâ€™re lucky, I got my first choice. A lot of [parents] were unhappy, both with the choice of the school and the online system. I would go back to the old system, where you go to the school of your choice prior to the opening.â€
Another parent, Sandra Pinto, resorted to sending her daughter Alexia to grade one at a private school after she struggled so much with the online registration that she was convinced her child wouldnâ€™t get placed in a school. Despite struggling with the system, Pinto eventually managed to register Alexia, but when she double checked the application, it no longer existed.
â€œIt would give you a number and youâ€™re told your child is registered only to find out in the evening that your child doesnâ€™t even exist on the system and nor could you put them back on the system,â€ she said. The education department advised Pinto to re-register Alexia using her husbandâ€™s details.
â€œIt was very stressful, because you had to create passwords [and] give other email addresses because you couldnâ€™t use the one youâ€™d initially used. It was terrible.â€ Pinto panicked when her first choice of school in Rosettenville, told her that Alexia was actually much further back in the admissions queue than she had initially thought. They also told her that they had received a very high number of applications.
To make matters worse, when other families were notified that their children had been placed in schools, the Pinto family had still not heard anything.â€œWe waited until the last minute and then we had to go private, even though weâ€™re not financially stable for that.â€
About a week after everyone else had heard whether their children had been placed, Pinto heard that Alexia had been accepted into Highveld Primary School, but the deposit for the private school had already been paid. The family has since had to adjust to the huge financial change by working longer hours.
The Gauteng Department of Educationâ€™s spokesperson, Oupa Bodibe, insisted that internet and computer access were not a challenge when it came to the online system. â€œDuring the actual application period we made arrangements that anyone who does not have internet connection could go to a community library, a Thusanong centre or our district offices. After the deadline passed [for applications], we also arranged road shows where parents could come physically to be assisted. So lack of access was not ever an issue.â€
Bodibe said that improvements that had been made to the system included a larger hard drive to prevent it from crashing when there was high traffic on the site. Issues around the geographic mapping of schools, feeder zones and the use of foreigner passport numbers on the online system were also being resolved.
He added that 13, 000 children in Gauteng still had to be placed at schools. â€œThey will not be placed in their first school of choice, they will be placed where we find space.â€