Infrastructure or Teachers?

Tom Stokes, MPP

Democratic Alliance

Helen Zille’s reasons for supporting Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga’s, reluctance to prescribe standard norms and standards for all schools across the country is based on the simple choice between using limited financial resources to build infrastructure or to deliver more and better teachers.  Zille supports Angie because she too believes that, given the choice between a science lab without a science teacher or a science teacher without a lab, the latter is preferable.

Of course, as Zille concedes, this choice doesn’t hold for basic essentials. Water, sanitation, security and classrooms must be there first before money is diverted to improving the quality of tuition delivered in these rudimentary schools.

In imposing prescriptions which force Education departments to upgrade thousands of poorer schools to the same standard as long-established urban schools, already hard-pressed education budgets will shift their focus from delivery of education to delivery of buildings.   More importantly, at a time when innovative solutions are needed to address huge infrastructure and human resources backlogs, education departments are likely to fall back into the lazy habit of following instructions instead of seeking solutions.

The Rationalization and Transformation Programme is an example of one of KZN’s more innovative schemes.  The realisation that there is a basic equation involving minimum learner numbers, minimum classroom numbers and minimum subject options for a school to operate effectively has propelled this programme which will result in the abandonment of about 1 000 existing, non-functional schools and the creation of “model” schools similar to existing ex-model C schools.  The consolidation of smaller schools, many of them with below 100 learners, into bigger and more effective schools is a logical and cost-effective way of improving both infrastructure and the curricula package.

Considering that KZN currently has some 650 000 learners in classes of more than 45 per classroom – and thousands more in classes of 90 and above – this kind of analysis is a far more sensible paradigm for determining minimum operating models rather than norms and standards based only on brick and mortar.