Gauteng school infrastructure plagued by chronic underspending

By Ashor Sarupen MPL DA Gauteng Spokesperson on Education

Madam Speaker,

The Department of Education is entrusted with the safety, security, care and learning of our children for 12 years of their lives – their most formative years. What happens to our children in schools for the six or more hours a day they spend in school determines the path of their entire lives. Education is the quickest ticket out of poverty, inequality and redressing the imbalances of the past.

Poor education, particularly in a child’s formative years, cannot be easily undone in later years. It is no secret that inequality is a major problem in education – and that there is a massive infrastructure backlog. However, infrastructure project failure is endemic in schools in Gauteng. I can cite dozens of examples of schools where shoddy workmanship, contractors abandoning projects and ghost projects have taken place. This in and of itself perpetuates inequality in the system.

But, school infrastructure in this province is also plagued by chronic underspending, and the ANC government is robbing Peter to pay Paul over the next three years.

This ANC government has stolen and looted so much that you have decided to cut school infrastructure spending drastically. The Guptas live it up in Dubai, avoiding charges and enjoying their ill-gotten gains, while this Education department will be spending less on school infrastructure in 2018/19 than it did in 2014/15.

Let me repeat that – the ANC in Gauteng will spend less on school infrastructure in 2018/19 than it did in 2014/15. It will spend even less in 2019/20 and 2020/21. Last year you were supposed to spend R2.1 billion, this year you will only try to spend R1.6 billion, and next year R1.4 billion. Meanwhile, we still have asbestos schools, we still have insufficient and inadequate sanitation, we still have schools with an insufficient numbers of classrooms, we still have inadequate facilities for learners with special needs, we still have overcrowded classrooms and we still have schools without access to any sporting facilities.

Infrastructure is critical to creating an environment in which learning and teaching can be conducive. The Democratic Alliance believes that “every child must be provided with an opportunity to learn in a safe and nurturing environment to develop and reach their potential.”

The longer you fail on infrastructure, the more you fail in creating an environment in which our children can learn with the facilities they need.

This environment further requires that our learners are safe from abuse. I was alarmed to learn that the department did not historically vet all teachers and school support staff to ensure that our learners are safe.

Last year, the sheer number of incidents relating to the abuse of our girl learners in schools was incredibly disheartening and heart breaking. No girl child, and indeed, no child at all, should be preyed on by a teacher, a principal or a scholar patroller, or any support staff. Schools should be safe spaces for our children. This is the responsibility of trust that parents place on the department when they send their children to our schools. Last year, the department showed that it was failing on this critical responsibility.

The DA has called on the department to have a full scale, high level commission of enquiry into the extent of abuse in our school system – to date, this has not been heeded. You have a responsibility to create an environment in which learners can come forward, without fear of retribution or being targeted, with their right to privacy being protected, and with care and sensitivity, to ensure that we rid our system of any person who would prey on our children. This budget does not create a dedicated programme to achieve this.

Indeed, standards in this area need to be improved by the department, as the South African Council of Educators (SACE) has permitted 45% of teachers found guilty of sexual misconduct against learners, between 2009 and 2012, to continue teaching our children. If the unions won’t act, if SACE won’t act, then the department must do everything in its considerable power to protect our children.

The department should, immediately and without hesitation develop and implement a national school abuse policy that requires immediate reporting of physical and sexual abuse to the SAPS as well as appoint dedicated individuals in conjunction with the department of social development to report and manage a school’s response to abuse. This point person’s dedicated responsibilities should include pro-active follow-ups of investigations, so that any adult in the school system who abuses a child in any way, goes to jail. There should be zero tolerance on this matter. Furthermore, the department should create a dedicated learner helpline for learners to call to report abuse so that investigators can swiftly move in and deal with reported issues in schools.

There is a massive burden of trust on the Department of Education, and its budget and programmes, as well as its implementation, just creates a trust deficit. We cannot support this budget vote, as it is just a continuation of the department’s failed approaches to bringing equity to education, and ignores critical issues relating to school safety.