By Khume Ramulifho MPL, DA Gauteng Shadow MEC for Education
This is the last budget of the 5th term of this legislature. We have noticed certain developments led by MEC Lesufi. No one can doubt the passion and commitment to education shown by the MEC. There are three projects introduced with some intensity. These include, the roll out of Information and Communication Technology (ICTs), introduction of an online registration system for grade 1 and 8 and the introduction of schools of specializations in Gauteng.
The ICT initiative roll-out is far more advanced than the Gauteng Online System. Even though, we have witnessed some challenges. Some are ongoing and others were historic. It is unfortunate that a positive project intended to benefit many learners in the province has attracted many criminals to our schools.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) has made meaningful contributions on how to improve quality learning and teaching in Gauteng. The need to train teachers to embrace new technology needs to be given attention and isn’t really where it is expected to be at this stage. The DA continues to call for the department to engage communities to take ownership of our schools.
The emphasis on education technology is primarily to ensure that all learners from poor communities must have access to opportunities to gain meaningful skills while still at school. So that when they leave school, they have certain skills required by the job market. Our education must be linked to work skills.
The modernisation of school classrooms and the implementation of innovative technology is important in creating conducive learning and teaching environments. However, the costs and poor planning have been areas about which we have disagreements. The DA believes that the type of work done could have been achieved at a lower price. If there is better planning, the department will spend its entire infrastructure budget and demand more to deal with the backlog.
The online admission system is also a positive programme. However, when it started it was characterized by glitches. It is important to note that this year, the system had experienced minor challenges.
Though the DA maintains that the challenge is the department’s failure to make many of our schools centres of excellence. This is the long term and sustainable solution to managing the demand faced by a few excellent schools.
While there is a clear understanding of the limited resources, school infrastructure programme has failed both learners and teachers in this province. It is largely due to poor project management and lack of consequences for those tasked with implementation.
Treasury has been the biggest beneficiary when the department failed to spend its allocated budget. The DA has been calling for more budget allocated to fix school infrastructure but even when Treasury does make the necessary provision, the department failed to spend its allocated budget.
The department fails to spend its infrastructure budget, despite the fact that there are still more than 25 asbestos schools that have been declared as health hazards. Many schools are aging, they are deteriorating at a rapid speed. The most unfortunate ones are schools that are built after 1994, where they are joining aging ones but because of poor workmanship.
The department has also failed to build libraries, laboratories and sporting facilities. These are still privileges for former Model C and well-resourced private schools. Government must redress the past imbalances.
Schools are centres where learners’ talent get identified. When talent is identified, it must be nurtured. So those learners can lead productive lives because schools would have provided proper facilities. Imagine, learners who intend pursuing science professions who will only see real labs at varsity. This takes away an opportunity to be creative and innovative.
Some of the former Model C schools we have visited this year, have more than 20 sporting codes but many of the township schools we have visited have dusty football grounds. The inequality gap must be closed. Access to well-resourced schools cannot only be for those who can afford them.
The ECD program also failed to spend its allocated budget. This is historical, since I served on the education committee, the department has never spent the entire allocated budget. I’m referring to 9 years. But there are many learners who only start schooling at grade 1 because they cannot afford to pay for Grade R fees.
The same learners who are expected to attend no fee schools, are expected to pay for Grade R classes. If their parents cannot afford this, how will they pay for school fees?
The DA recognises that education has taken a different turn. Instead of debating and deliberating quality teaching and learning, so many issues dominate the debate. If you make an observation on issues dominating the education agenda, they are mostly social ills.
This raises questions about the leadership we have and the role played in shaping society.
Though these are societal issues, they can’t be ignored. We have a responsibility to create an enabling learning and teaching environment. School safety, order, discipline, parental support and community involvement, quality teaching and school leadership and management should be priorities.
It is a known fact that all the best schools have high discipline, proper leadership, community ownership of the school and both learners and teachers understand what is expected from them. On the other hand, a dysfunctional school lacks all the above factors. Given the fact that we know what the problems are at these schools, this should have made it easier for the department to the fix problems faced by these dysfunctional schools.
There is a general tendency to prioritize education when matric results get announced and when the admission process is underway. After that, its sexual harassment cases, burglaries, vandalism, theft etc – these social ills define our education system.
These social ills take away certain basic school resources. We have noticed disruptions caused when smart boards get stolen. When learners carry weapons to school. The focus should rather be on assisting learners who are poorly performing across all the grades.
There are many teachers who are dedicated and committed to the work they do. They go to school very early and leave school after 15:00. Some teachers even teach on Saturdays without expecting additional money but expecting learners to excel in the subjects they teach. It is unfortunate that a few teachers involved in misconduct drag the entire profession into disrepute.
It is the responsibility of the department to create enabling learning conditions. Teacher quality is measured by content knowledge and experience relating to learners’ achievement. This can be made possible by providing principals with the necessary support to employ effective teaching strategies. Whether it be collaborative learning, looping, different instructions etc. this will only be possible when there is the necessary relevant support.
But many of our districts have been failing to provide the necessary support. District officials have reduced their school visits to a box-ticking exercise.
These are the areas in which the department can do better:
- a) District support – districts must be realigned to provide direct relevant support to schools.
- b) Conducive learning and teaching environments – many of our school infrastructure is a crisis in the making, schools must be safe centres. Infrastructure must be of good quality.
- c) Strong public private partnerships – communities must have ownership of schools. The private sector should be encouraged to get involved to solve certain challenges that may need more resources.
- d) School leadership and management – appoint principals and HODs based on merit not union affiliation.
- e) Quality of teaching and management – teaching strategies, assessment and time spent teaching.
- f) Corruption and financial mismanagement – looting and mismanagement takes away basic resources meant to benefit learners. This must stop.
The DA is concerned that basic school infrastructure will collapse as the pace and management of the projects are weak. Social ills are defining our education agenda.