Budget vote speech: Education

The following speech was delivered by Anthony Benadie DA MPL, Leader of the Official Opposition, to the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature on 21 May 2015, during the Debate on the 2015 Department of Education budget. Vote 7.

Quality education is the foundation of a successful society. It is through education that individuals acquire skills that make them employable and equip them to access opportunities that improve their lives.

South Africa’s Apartheid past has left our society grossly unequal and while we cannot undo the past, we have a duty to redress any disadvantages caused by our past, so that all South Africans may make equal use of their opportunities;

A prosperous future for South Africa can only be assured when every South African child receives a worthwhile education that enables them to access dignified employment.

Therefore Hon Speaker and MEC, the R16 billion budget tabled before the house today must be dedicated to redressing the inequalities that still exist in our education system. It simply cannot be acceptable that after 21 years of democracy, given our annual investment in education that the quality of education received by a learner in Nelspruit is of substantial better quality than that received by a learner in Bushbuckridge.

But, Hon Speaker, it is not the fault of the learner but points to the complacent leadership culture within our education department. This department has lost 57 182 learners between grade 1 – 12 between 2002 and 2014. This figure is duplicated year on year, resulting in hundreds of thousands of Mpumalanga children not being educated and doomed to a life of poverty.

In the 2014 Annual National Assessments the average marks for Mathematics for a Grade 9 learner in Mpumalanga was a shocking 11%, with less than 3% of grade 9 learners passing maths with marks higher than 50%. In contrast, the marks for grade 1 learners were on average 68%.

Results across all assessments indicate a drastic drop in marks attained in higher grades essentially illustrating that the longer a learner stays in our education the worse they perform.

Hon Speaker, producing quality learners requires a quality learning environment. We need quality schools, with adequate infrastructure, enough classrooms, sanitation, electricity, water and sporting facilities. This however cannot be done with the infrastructure budget cut of R80 million. It simply doesn’t make sense that the department intends to develop less school infrastructure, yet the budget to rent mobile classrooms is increasing from R4mil, to over R20 million in this financial year.

Hon MEC, the department’s decision to backtrack on the building of the Aerorand school in Steve Tshwete is of serious concern. As the town rapidly expands the demand for English medium education is ever increasing with children simply having no-where to go. This must be reviewed as a matter of urgency.

Hon Speaker, I was shocked by the MEC’s reply to a written DA question, where she states that no school in Mpumalanga pay a toilet levy. It’s disgraceful when considering every single school pays a sewer charge to their municipality calculated according to the number of toilets they have at the school. This levy places a severe burden on school finances and I appeal to the MEC today to have this reviewed.

Hon Speaker, for years the MRTT has been a model parastatal in our province, but in recent years the red lights have begun flashing especially in terms of their financial management, their funding versus actual output. In this financial year the MRTT will receive an additional R128 million to target 1000 Artisan learners. This is at a cost of R128 000 per learner, per year making the MRTT undoubtedly one of the most expensive training institutions in the country. It is simply impossible.

Hon MEC, I have not even mentioned scholar transport, school nutrition, the department’s legal battles and arrogant ignoring of court orders but what is clear is that our education department requires new energy. Merely existing, year on year despite receiving billions of rands, is not good enough.

No other department has a greater responsibility to building a better South Africa than this one. The future of our children and our nation depends on the success of our Education Department, you dare not disappoint them.

I thank you.