DA debate on Education budget vote

Safiyia Stanfley, MPL

DA Spokesperson of Education

Note: The following is an extract from the speech delivered by DA Spokesperson of Education in the Northern Cape, Safiyia Stanfley, during the debate on the Education Budget Vote in the Northern Cape Legislature today.

“Upon the education of the people of this country, the fate of this country depends.”

These are the wise words of Benjamin Disraeli, who clearly understood the power of education to transform a nation.

This is a power bestowed on the Northern Cape Department of Education, which now has an enormous responsibility to determine a better future for this country. A future in which poverty and unemployment are significantly diminished and economic growth accelerated.

The importance of the education sector is seen in its allocation compared to the rest of other government entities. It receives the biggest chunk by far, with a budget of R4.7 billion which represents 36% of the total budget of the province.

Hon. Speaker, given this department’s critical mandate of educating our people, we have to be particularly critical of mediocrity. We cannot allow substandard performance to jeopardize the entire nation’s chances at a better tomorrow.

Before going further, I would therefore like to paint a picture of the state of education in the country and in this province, in order to emphasize just how important it is that this budget vote is optimally allocated in order to improve the quality of education in the Northern Cape.

Hon. Speaker, South Africa’s Maths and Science education quality is ranked the worst in the world by the 2014 World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report. This is not surprising considering that in the Northern Cape, only 38,2% of learners achieved at 40% and above in Mathematics in 2013. This is a marginal improvement from 36,5% the previous year. At the same time, the provincial Science results deteriorated with only 36,1% of learners achieving 40% and above compared to 38,1% the previous year.

Meanwhile, the overall perceived quality of our education system has also plummeted from 140 to 146 of 148 countries surveyed. In the Northern Cape, I daresay that the vast majority of parents share this perception. It is after all no secret that far too few schools in the Northern Cape achieve the standards of excellence required for them to deliver proper education – and parents know this. In fact a growing number of parents are camping out for days on end in order to get their children into a select handful of quality schools. This is because the general perception exists that the majority of schools in this province are providing an inferior education.

On top of this, Hon. Speaker, there are other signs that all is not well within education:

– An independent report earlier this year named School Governing Bodies in the Northern Cape as the most corrupt in the country. This is deeply worrying, as SGB’s are charged with some very important tasks, including administering and controlling the school’s property and budget.

– Furthermore, this department seems to confuse the setting of educational targets with actual educational achievement. In this respect, the Auditor-General found that only 32% of planned targets set by the NC Department of Education in 2012/2013 were actually achieved.

Hon. Speaker, this undoubtedly paints a bleak picture of our education system. It is therefore shocking that Mr Pharasi, the HOD of this department, recently chose to proclaim in the newspapers that education in the province is not in crisis.

Instead of acknowledging the steady destruction of our school system in the Northern Cape, this administration pats itself on the back for its so-called “many achievements”.

I daresay this is a blatant case of education denialism. Unfortunately, like Aids denialism, the consequences of education denialism will also be felt when it is too late.

The DA is of the view that this crisis is a product of poor quality teaching, poor school infrastructure and bad school management, all of which are issues that must be urgently addressed at a provincial level.

Allow me to speak individually on these three issues:

Firstly, regarding poor quality teaching …

Poor quality teaching stems largely from the fact that the provincial education department chooses to continue investing in its administration instead of in its schools.

I say this against the backdrop that the ruling party has, over the years, treated this department as the dumping ground for political cadres, including former MEC’s, who enjoy senior level posts.

As a direct result of this top heavy structure, the department has had to undertake serious cost containment measures to balance out the distended expenditure on compensation of employees. Unfortunately, this impacts on the school component and is clearly seen in the fact that the department aims to appoint only three additional educators employed in public ordinary schools, in the entire province, in the next financial year. On top of this, the target for the number of teachers employed in public ordinary schools has decreased by 453, from 8 850 in 2013/2014 to 8 397 this year.

Hon. Speaker, when will this administration realize that it is our teachers who teach, not the warm bodies occupying cushy seats in the departmental offices?

The DA believes that a smaller, more efficient management structure would do a more efficient job and also free up much needed funds to invest in improving quality teaching.

These funds could then be spent on putting more educators in our schools.

These funds could also be directed towards:

  • · Confirming the permanent appointment of all qualified teachers who have been temping for three years or more;
  • · Incentivizing continuous learning and teacher up-skilling through adequate training and development;
  • · And providing bursaries for the training of new teachers.

2. Secondly, regarding poor school infrastructure …

At the beginning of the year, the DA conducted visits to a number of schools.

A snap survey of 30 of the schools indicated that of the 30 schools, 9 schools did not have a functional computer centre, 18 schools did not have a functional library and 18 schools did not have a functional laboratory.

Hon. Speaker, the importance of creating a school environment that is conducive to learning should not be understated.

The DA advises the department to prioritize quintile 1,2 and 3 schools receiving a library, a computer centre and a laboratory.

In order to ensure no prejudice to learning through lack of such resources in the short term, we further recommend the sharing of facilities between schools and maximizing the use of publicly available facilities.

Thirdly, regarding bad school management …

We have already heard that too many of our SGB’s are dysfunctional.

But aside from this, too many of our teachers exhibit a lack of content knowledge, are incompetent at imparting knowledge and are thus, effectively, not capable of teaching.

At the same time, too many of our school principals are weak managers.

Hon. Speaker, this is significant because studies show that school leadership is “second only to classroom teaching as an influence on pupil learning” and that schools cannot improve learner outcomes in the absence of talented leadership.

A key issue that therefore needs attention is the introduction of performance targets for both educators and principals, as well as development of strong school leadership.

Effective screening and competence monitoring of teachers, competence tests to be passed by subject advisors and by any teachers who apply for promotion posts are critical.

Improved training for SGB’s, as well as financial support, is also essential.

Hon. Speaker, I have mentioned only a few things that are wrong with education in this province. There are, however, many things that are not being addressed in this budget vote and many things that deserve attention going forward.

I hope the Hon. Cjiekella has taken note and that come next year, we will see these things addressed in budget 2015/2016.

Thank you.