by Safiyia Stanfley – DA Provincial Spokesperson on Education in the Northern Cape
Date: 14 June 2017
Note to editors: The following speech was delivered in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature 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.
The Democratic Alliance believes that education empowers learners to benefit from the opportunities that our society has to offer. If our learners receive a high quality of education, they are empowered to fulfil their potential – to embark on tertiary studies, to complete vocational training or to become successful entrepreneurs. But if our learners are deprived of quality education, they are destined to remain excluded from opportunities and dependent on the state for survival.
For us as a province to achieve the highest possible quality of education and to improve the quality of teaching and learning, a number of societal factors needs to be addressed. No classroom is an island and no learner is in a bubble. The quality of teaching and learning depends on a number of factors which lie outside the classroom door, but which must be addressed if we want our learners to succeed.
What we need, is for every child to be on time, at a school with an environment that is conducive for learning and with a teacher in every classroom who is qualified and willing to teach.
Unfortunately, the department’s budget for 2017/18 does not do enough to ensure that this happens. There is no real sense that the department is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that learners are on time and in safe schools. Without this assurance, we cannot be satisfied that all of our learners will benefit from education of a high quality.
Firstly, many learners who wake up while it is still dark arrive at school long after the academic day has started, because learner transport in the province has collapsed. A presentation done by the Department of Basic Education in Parliament three weeks ago shows that approximately 12% of qualifying learners in the Northern Cape did not receive learner transport during the previous financial year.
I am fully aware of the fact that the function of learner transport currently resides under the department of Transport, Safety & Liaison, pending the finalisation of the decision of the provincial Executive Council to shift it back to the department of Education. Our concern is that, while the department of Education is aware of the chaos, it seemingly plans to do nothing about it in this financial year. There is also no sense that the department is preparing to take over the function of learner transport.
We simply cannot accept that 12% of qualifying learners are denied learner transport and continue as though that is business as usual.
Secondly, the department’s budget plans do not adequately address the creation of a conducive environment for learners to benefit from quality education. Both the physical and the social environment needs to support learning and teaching of the highest quality.
As it relates to the physical environment at schools, the department has a specific programme dedicated to providing and maintaining infrastructure facilities. While the work is usually carried out by implementing agents, the department does not conduct sufficient monitoring – with devastating results. In the past three financial years, the Auditor-General has calculated that this department is the second biggest contributor to irregular expenditure in the provincial administration, largely because expenditure incurred by implementing agents violates supply chain management prescripts.
Despite a recommendation from the House, the department has not put in place any mechanisms to improve its monitoring of implementing agents.
We cannot blindly approve a budget each year only to find out that it was never implemented or monitored appropriately – and yet that is the situation that the department is creating by failing to monitor implementing agents properly.
Furthermore, the department stated during the presentation of its budget that it has not yet allocated any of the infrastructure projects it wants to undertake this year. If we delay with awarding contracts, creating our own pressures to have work of a certain standard completed by a specified time, and fail to monitor the contracts we have awarded, we are setting our infrastructure projects up for failure – at great cost to the learners who are stuck relying on inadequate infrastructure.
It is welcome to note that the department was quick to assist Hantam High School in Calvinia with the payment of an overdue electricity bill. And it is equally disappointing to note that there is no cohesive strategy from the department to provide similar assistance to schools who find themselves in similarly dire straits.
It appears as though the budget plans of the department do not address the social environment at schools appropriately. While the department might not be responsible for the social circumstances of each school, it can and must do more, in partnership with its sister departments, to ensure that every learner is supported.
For example, it is certainly welcome that the narrative report of the department describes a number of school safety initiatives that it wants to undertake. But there are no indicators or targets linked to the implementation of these initiatives, which makes it hard for the Portfolio Committee to track how and if the initiatives have been successful. We are given a vague commitment by the department that training to prevent violence and bullying in schools will be done, but we are not told where the training will take place, which schools will benefit, what criteria was used to select schools or even what the budget for these activities will be.
Similarly, the department refers briefly to the appointment of a service provider to implement a comprehensive intervention programme to address teenage pregnancies. But, again, we are given no details which will allow for an evaluation of the proposed intervention.
Considering the fact that 157 learners fell pregnant in the Northern Cape during 2016, of whom 36 were in grade 9 or younger, we definitely need a firm, feasible strategy to address teenage pregnancies. Will the department be able to deliver this in the financial year ahead?
The Democratic Alliance participated in the committee meetings and analysed the relevant documents. Having done so, we can only support the budget on the condition that improvements are seen in the way the department manages its performance and its finances.
And these improvements must be done sooner rather than later.
DA Provincial Spokesperson on Education in the Northern Cape
084 919 4157
071 251 5558