By Safiyia Stanfley, MPL, DA Provincial Spokesperson on Education:
As parents and as politicians, we know that the South African education system is struggling. Earlier this month, for example, the World Economic Forum ranked the quality of South African math and science education as the worst in the world – again. The Northern Cape is not exempt from the problems faced elsewhere in the country – in 2014, only 2.5% of grade 9 learners passed Mathematics in the Annual National Assessments. This does not bode well.
However, the Democratic Alliance does not want to place the focus on what is wrong. Today, we want to focus on what the department can do right – for our learners, for our educators and for our schools.
Firstly, the department has to ensure that all learners are reached and supported. Some of the plans for 2015/16 will definitely improve the lives of our learners. The Democratic Alliance welcomes the intended collaboration between the department of Education and the department of Health to ensure that learners are dewormed through the National School Nutrition Programme.
Another plan which will improve the performance of learners at schools will be the provision of breakfast. It is a model that is adopted elsewhere in the country with great success. As part of the National School Nutrition Programme, learners are provided with breakfast before school starts and receive lunch in the middle of the day. The dry cereal portion is 30 grammes. Extra costs are covered as the starch component of the lunch is 20 to 30 grammes smaller than in other provinces. I want to appeal to the MEC to consider this option, at least in our quintile 1 schools where learners too often arrive at school with empty stomachs.
School sport is a crucial mechanism in teaching our learners to be active and to follow a healthy lifestyle. The Democratic Alliance supports the development of the proposed sport focus schools over the next five years. I believe we all look forward to seeing many more Northern Cape athletes representing the province in national and even international teams.
We need to investigate ways to maximise the participation of learners from rural schools and special needs schools in school sport. From
2015/16 onward, there is simply no budget allocated for the School Sport, Culture and Media Services sub-programme in Public Special Needs Schools.
If we are to truly open the doors of learning for all, we must reach those learners whose educational needs are not met in the public ordinary schools. At the moment, 1 672 learners are enrolled at the public special schools in the province. The Democratic Alliance is happy to note that the enrolment of learners at public special schools will increase over the MTEF due to the opening of the Kleinzee Inclusive School. However, as of April 2015, there are still 1 643 learners currently on waiting lists for public special schools in the Northern Cape. This number constitutes exactly half of the learners nationwide who are waiting to be enrolled in special needs schools and shows the extent to which learners with special needs are being deprived of their right to education in the province.
We cannot have as many learners on waiting lists as we do in school and we cannot fail to provide quality education to our most vulnerable learners. Every child matters and every child must be given the opportunity to develop his or her unique talents. We appreciate the commitment from the department, given during the portfolio committee meeting, that ways are being investigated to improve access for learners with special needs.
The Democratic Alliance welcomes the fact that just over 4 000 educators will be trained in inclusive education programmes in 2015/16. If this target is met, it will be four times as many educators as were trained in the previous year.
If our schools are to deliver quality education, we need quality educators. This holds true for ordinary and for special schools and brings me to the second aspect which must be addressed by the department in 2015/16.
The quality of an education system can never exceed the quality of its educators. We are concerned about the department’s admission that the province is losing key educators, especially in Mathematics and Science. Experienced educators who know how to convey complex concepts are difficult to replace. We must retain and reward those educators who strive for excellence in the classroom and who inspire excellence in their learners.
The Democratic Alliance therefore welcomes the new initiatives that are being implemented from 2015/16 onward to support educators. It is good to see a new target for evaluating school-based and office-based educators. We are also happy to note the new target for monitoring and managing teacher absenteeism. It is good that the department also plans to reduce teacher absenteeism from 15% in 2015/16 to 14% in 2017/18. Ultimately, teacher absenteeism must be brought to an absolute minimum. We want to see consequences for educators who regularly skip school, but we also want to see rewards for those who perform their duties diligently and professionally.
The teacher development centre, operationalised in February, will assist a great deal in the development of professional educators. A report from Education For All, published in 2014, shows that 95% of educators in the Northern Cape are qualified to teach in schools. We trust that the teacher development centre will also assist the remaining 5% of educators to improve their qualifications, so that our children can receive the quality of education that they deserve.
The third component of quality teaching and learning is a conducive school environment.
Over the next three years, the department has budgeted R988 million to build the core educational spaces needed for schools to meet basic functionality requirements. The Democratic Alliance looks forward to the construction of classrooms that can prevent overcrowding, libraries that open a world of imagination and laboratories that stimulate scientific minds. We also welcome the targets to improve electricity and water supply at schools, since the latest National Education Infrastructure Management System Report shows that 53 schools in the province have an unreliable water supply and 21 schools have an unreliable electricity supply. We obviously cannot expect learners to learn in the dark.
A safe school environment, however, goes beyond the physical infrastructure. Recent events at the Hoër Landbouskool in Jan Kempdorp is a sobering reminder that much more needs to be done to establish safe learning environments for all our learners. The Democratic Alliance notes the department’s plans to conduct a review of all hostels and to revise hostel policy to clarify the roles and responsibilities of hostel staff. We suggest that the review also focuses on other hotspots where illegal initiation practices could be occurring and where other victims might be afraid to speak out.
We also suggest that there are disciplinary consequences for hostel staff who fail to keep our learners safe.
During today’s debate, we are more than just honourable members of this august house. We are also committed members of school governing bodies, concerned parents and involved members of our community. We all want to see that the children of this province receive a wonderful, well-rounded education.