Rolling blackouts have touched all aspects of South African life. Education is no exception. In this sector — still recovering from the disruptions of the Covid-19 pandemic — frequent power outages are impacting teaching and learning, with some school principals even listing them as a factor behind rising absenteeism.
It is not only how rolling blackouts affect children in schools, but also in their homes, that is detrimental to their education, according to *John, principal of a Quintile 3 school in KwaZulu-Natal.
“In our case, we’ve got 2,500 learners and they’re going [home] to an informal settlement… they anticipate their parents getting home at 6pm or maybe 7pm, and that child will now not have a meal because there’s no electricity, there’s nothing being cooked,” he explained.
At Luhlaza Secondary School in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, rolling blackouts have caused a rise in lateness among pupils. The power outages wreak “havoc” on traffic in the Khayelitsha area, as traffic lights are affected, according to Mutile Qezo, deputy principal at the school.
Mark Fairbairn, principal of Spine Road High School in Mitchell’s Plain, Cape Town, told Maverick Citizen that pupils often went home late and needed to complete work at night. With no electricity, that was a challenge.
Merle Mansfield, programme director at the Zero Dropout Campaign, told Maverick Citizen that rolling blackouts impact security measures such as alarm systems and electric fences. “Particularly in schools that are often vandalised, [this] becomes a huge problem for principals. It’s one of their biggest stresses when there’s no electricity and there’s no alarm system because then schools are more… vulnerable,” she explained.
“There’s a lot of things that are very demoralising for learners and teachers who are navigating these under-resourced spaces, and I think when you add an additional thing like not having electricity on top of it, it becomes worse,” said Mansfield.