Fury over young boy's wasted six years at school
Parents shocked to find son can’t read despite pass to Grade 6
by Zine George
(March 2006)

PARENTS of an East London primary school pupil are considering taking legal action against the Education Department following their startling discovery that their son is still unable to read or write after six years of schooling.

The 12-year-old boy, who passed Grade 5 at Aspiranza Primary School in Buffalo Flats, gave his mother the shock of her life in October last year when the two were playing a game of Monopoly at home.

His “chance” card instructed him to “turn back” but he could not read the instructions. “All my son did was look me in the eyes and cry. I pleaded with him to read in disbelief but he told me he can’t,” recalled the boy’s mother, Marianne Markgraaff.

“I asked myself what has he been doing at school for the past six years if he cannot write his name?”

The boy, whose name is known to the Daily Dispatch but is not published at the request of his parents, had been living with his grandmother since Grade R.

He has never repeated a grade since he started school.

Although his mother took the matter up with his school the following Monday, she received no logical explanation.

“No one could explain why this was never communicated to me as a parent,”
she said. “I always give my child’s class teachers my contact details when I drop my child at school at the beginning of the year,” she said.

In trying to get help for the child, Markgraaff sent the boy to registered psychometrist Verena Salzwedel for testing.

Salzwedel’s report, dated November 18, 2005, confirmed that the pupil had serious problems and that his level of understanding of his school work was even poorer than that of a Grade 1 pupil.

The report stated: “(The boy) knows the alphabetical names and a few single letter sounds, but further than this, his phonetic base has not been established at all and he recognises very few sight words.

“He therefore cannot read at all, not even at Grade 1 level. He may memorise a sentence which has been read to him and then try to repeat it but there is very little sound-symbol recognition.”

Salzwedel also found that the boy’s intellectual potential was “very limited, but one gets the impression that he has been cognitively inactive for so long that the scores are depressed”.

“He needs intensive individual extra lessons during the next two months to try to master reading skills so that he can benefit from schooling.”

Although the remedial consultant made these findings, the boy’s December progress report still read: “Bervoeder na Graad 6” – meaning the boy had passed to Grade 6.

He “met the criteria” in six of his nine subjects and only needed support in three – natural science, life orientation and English second language.

Aspiranza principal Clive Adams yesterday refused to comment, referring all questions to the Education Department.

In an e-mail sent by Superintendent-General Dave Edley to Markgraaff in January, he said: “The school should have identified the fact that the child has a learning challenge some considerable time ago.

“However, it is unfortunately not uncommon or unknown for some learners with challenges to learning to slip through the system. I hope that you have raised the issue with our school principal. If the finding is that he needs to attend a special school, then I will endeavour to assist.”

The boy’s father, Andrew Markgraaff, said: “My understanding has been that my son has been coping at school, all these years.

“The minister’s children can read and write, the principal’s children can read and write. But my son’s six years at school has gone down the drain. I blame myself as a parent but the school should have communicated my child’s problem.”

He said he is currently consulting lawyers for advice. “Someone has to account. The school and the department have to explain what did they do to help my child in the past six years.”

The boy has now been registered at another local school in Grade 4 and is attending extra classes every day.

“I am doing what I can to improve his education,” he said. “But for those parents who are not aware that their children are getting a raw deal through the system, I have to take this matter up.”

Department spokesperson Loyiso Pulumani said the school reported that the boy’s problem had been communicated to the parents timeously, “but no one seemed to care”.

“It’s unfortunate that it will be settled in the court of law. But we would have loved to help this boy and give him the support he deserves. Our doors are open,” said Pulumani.