by Safiyia Stanfley – DA Provincial Spokesperson on Education in the Northern Cape
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Date: 05 June 2018
Note to editors: The following is an extract of the speech delivered today by the Democratic Alliance’s provincial spokesperson on Education, Safiyia Stanfley MPL, during the debate on the budget of the Northern Cape Department of Education held in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature during a sitting in Kimberley.
As a representative of the Democratic Alliance, I have participated in a number of debates on the importance of quality education in this August House. Education, as former president Nelson Mandela said, is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that we empower the daughter of a farmworker to become a doctor or the son of a mineworker to become the head of the mine.
It is my belief that, as parents and as members of the community, we can all agree that the quality of education is one of the most critical priorities we must have. Learners who receive a high quality of education are empowered to fulfil their potential, to pursue tertiary studies or to set up their own businesses. Learners who do not receive this same high quality of education are likely destined to remain excluded from opportunities and dependent on a meagre social grant from the state for survival.
What has become increasingly clear is that the Department of Education simply lacks the will to deliver the highest possible quality of education to all of our learners. Year after year, massive financial and human resources are devoted to the task of developing young minds – and year after year, we do not see an adequate return on our investments. Nearly 38% of the provincial equitable share is allocated for the provision of education, as the MEC for Education described, and yet we fail to see real, tangible value for money.
The problem with the poor quality of education in the Northern Cape is not a lack of funding, but rather a lack of willingness or capacity to manage those funds appropriately.
Let me use the example of the learner transport function to illustrate my point. It is welcome to note that the learner transport function will now be carried out by this department and hopefully heralds an end to the era where the responsibility for various learner transport failures were simply shuttled back and forth between this department and the Department of Transport, Safety & Liaison.
The department has received R465 million over the 2018 MTEF for the provision of learner transport to qualifying learners. For this financial year alone, approximately 28% of the total goods and services budget is allocated for this function. And yet, aside from one or two brief mentions of the funding, the department’s budget presentation gives no clear indication that it is ready and willing to implement the learner transport function smoothly, effectively and efficiently.
The department cannot afford to kid itself on the amount of work required to deliver an effective learner transport function. As a presentation done by the Department of Basic Education in March 2018 shows, the Northern Cape provided learner transport to 96% of qualifying learners in 2014. At the end of the previous financial year, this number has decreased to 90%.
It is simply not acceptable that 10% of qualifying learners are not benefiting from learner transport. It is also not acceptable that the department’s budget presentation shows no plans or programmes to ensure a smooth handover between departments, to check the roadworthiness of all vehicles and to ensure that service providers are compliant.
The department has made much of the baseline reductions that national has imposed and the effect this will have, especially on the development and maintenance of education infrastructure. The Democratic Alliance is on record in expressing our disgust at this decision, which I will repeat here. Budget cuts are a crime against learners who still have to rely on inadequate sanitation, unsafe classrooms and insufficiently stocked libraries. Despite the large numbers thrown around in the budget speeches, we must remember that funding per learner has decreased by 8% over the past seven years.
But again, it is not just a question of resources. It is also how you manage those resources that counts. If one looks at the infrastructure projects to be funded by the department over the 2018/19 MTEF, one can clearly see that 24% of these projects were supposed to have been completed prior to the start of the 2018/19 financial year. Some projects, such as the hostel at the Batlharo Tlhaping Secondary School in John Taolo Gaetsewe, was supposed to have been completed in 2014 already! In effect, the department is now paying for projects which should have been done and handed over to schools already – and will apparently continue to do so. These continuous delays in the timeous completion of infrastructure projects will place budgetary pressures on the department, irrespective of the size of its conditional grant allocations, until such time as it learns to manages its resources adequately and to the benefit of our learners.
And, as entrepreneur Jereshia Hawk said, “we might all be products of our environment, but we do not have to be the victims of our circumstances”. Yes, the department has to face the reality of baseline reductions imposed by national. It is the environment within which it must now operate. But it does not have to be the victim – and it cannot let our learners become victims of circumstances it created itself through the poor management of infrastructure projects.
It is perhaps the state of school sanitation which gives the clearest indication of how the department fails learners when it fails to manage its infrastructure projects appropriately. It is not sufficient to say that every school has an ablution block when the toilets inside are broken or insufficient for the amount of learners, when the school doesn’t have an adequate water supply or when sewage overflows frequently occur. During the budget presentation, the department reported that 1095 toilets at 31 schools across the province are deemed unacceptable, as the ablution blocks are constructed from asbestos.
Furthermore, 368 schools require a total of 2321 additional seats to provide an adequate level of sanitation for learners, given the learner-ablution ratio. It is unacceptable that the health and safety of learners and educators alike are placed at risk through the insufficient availability of something as simple as sanitation.
A safe schooling environment is needed for learners to succeed. It is therefore disappointing to note that the department has, once again, made no provision for the implementation of school safety programmes stemming from the National School Safety Framework. Indeed, it has omitted any mention of relevant activities from its narrative reports, which is a regression from the previous year.
With the proper management of the resources available, much more can and should be done to ensure that all of our learners receive the highest possible quality of education in the province.
The Democratic Alliance participated in the committee meeting and expressed both our concerns and encouragements. We will continue to fight for the realisation of the right of every child in this beautiful province, no matter the circumstances of his or her birth, to receive a high quality of education.
I thank you.