Equal Education Responds to Premier Helen Zille (Again)
On 20 July 2013, Premier Helen Zille wrote a well-publicised defence of Minister Angie Motshekga in which she sought to absolve Motshekga of arguably her three greatest failures of leadership: the 2012 Limpopo textbook crisis, the continued decline of schooling in the Eastern Cape and Motshekga’s years of delay in finalizing Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. Equal Education responded to Zille in a press statement focused specifically on her misleading and erroneous statements on Norms and Standards, as well as in an op-ed by EE Deputy General Secretary Doron Isaacs, which addressed the broader issues. Premier Zille has now responded to the Equal Education press statement on Norms and Standards, with her own statement on Norms and Standards in which she criticises the EE statement as being “misleading and riddled with errors.” Here we respond to her latest statement:
Premier Helen Zille’s statement on Norms and Standards is comprised of 10 points, each of which will be summarised and responded to here:
1. Zille disputes the fact that Treasury has approved the introduction of Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. Zille says that Treasury would not support the 2008 draft. Her evidence: “a recent telephone conversation” she had with an unnamed “senior Treasury official”.
Here again we provide actual evidence: statements made to Parliament in 2010 by Director General Bobby Soobrayan, to EE in 2011 by Deputy Director General SG Padayachee and in the DBE’s own 2009/2010 Annual Report.
Zille provides no actual information that the public can rely on. She criticises EE for citing “three people … none of whom speak on behalf of the Treasury” and instead takes it upon herself to speak for the Treasury!
EE knows that implementing Norms and Standards will require a large budget. We know it must be done over a process of years, which is why the latest court order states: “The Regulations shall prescribe Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for school infrastructure, and the time-frames within which they must be complied with.”
Zille claims that “the Treasury’s costing of the 2008 Norms and Standards (that EE supports) amounted to between R8 – R10 billion”.
Incidentally this is less than what it cost to build the World Cup stadiums, the most expensive of which was the Cape Town Stadium which Helen Zille approved as Mayor of Cape Town at a cost to the country of over R4bn. It is now a white elephant.
EE has already costed one of the most expensive parts of improving school infrastructure, the provision of school libraries across the country. To read the full report click here. We show that it would cost less to put a library in every school in South Africa than it did to build the World Cup stadiums.
If Zille is prepared to claim, without evidence, that providing every child with a properly built school is “unaffordable to the fiscus” then she must explain to the country what her plan for the youth of South Africa is. It appears she simply accepts that the grossly unequal conditions of learning inherited from Apartheid are here to stay.
In the same paragraph Zille says about improved school infrastructure: “Neither are they necessarily linked to improved education outcomes”.
Again Zille provides no evidence to back this claim.
Here are four useful resources on the links between improved school infrastructure and improved educational outcomes:
a. A review of 43 high quality peer-reviewed studies from around the world shows that school infrastructure is perhaps the most important contributor to good educational outcomes. (See bottom of page 41.) It is written by one of the world’s leading educational scholars Dr Eric Hanushek.
b. Affidavit by Dr Ursula Hoadley, an academic at UCT’s School of Education, providing evidence to support the call for Norms and Standards.
c. A review of international research by Debbie Budlender showing the positive impact around the world of decent school infrastructure.
d. Existing SA government policy on school infrastructure says there is a very direct link.
It goes without saying that EE believes there are many important improvements needed in education, including improving the quality of teaching. Improving school infrastructure is one of these vital improvements we urgently need.
2. Zille describes the Nedlac process as being “tortuous” but the Nedlac process around Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure took only three months to resolve. Nedlac strongly backed the call for Norms and Standards. The issue was tabled in March 2013 and concluded by 27 June 2013. Hardly tortuous.
3. Zille says that because education is a concurrent function under the Constitution, Minister Motshekga has to go beyond the legal requirements set out for finalising Norms and Standards in the South African Schools Act (SASA), which only require her to get concurrence from the Minister of Finance and consult with the provincial education MECs. Zille cites the Intergovernmental Relations Framework Act (IRFA), advising EE to give it “a good reading”.
Premier Zille might want to give the IRFA a good reading herself. The IRFA deals specifically with intergovernmental relations and not public participation. It sets out how the different spheres of government – national, provincial and local – should relate to each other and work together. Moreover, the provisions and objects of the IRFA are covered entirely by provisions contained in the Schools Act, namely Sections 5A and 58C, and the National Education Policy Act.
4. Zille describes as “pitifully inadequate” the 11 weeks Minister Motshekga had to finalise Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure from 31 March, the end of the public consultation period around Motshekga’s January 2013 draft, until 15 June 2013, the extend deadline EE offered Minister Motshekga.
This is a matter of opinion, but the context is that the Minister has had years for this process. She has promised to finalise the Norms and Standards on at least 20 occasions over the past four years. Also the six month time-frame set out in the November 2012 settlement agreement was proposed by the Minister.
5. Zille previously said “most provinces” cannot spend their infrastructure budgets. EE then showed that provinces spent an average of 96% of their infrastructure budgets. Zille then conceded that “most of the provinces have significantly improved their capacity to spend their infrastructure budgets”. The Premier then went on to claim that the 96% figure does not take into account money reallocated by the national department during the course of the year as it becomes clear which provinces will not be able to spend their budgets, and claimed that the weakest provinces still struggle to spend their school infrastructure budgets.
We agree. Having Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure, which will spell out what needs to be done by provinces, and by when, will help this problem. Accountability will be improved both in terms of DBE monitoring of provincial spending, and community monitoring of provincial spending.
6. In response to reports about shocking school toilets in Khayelitsha, Zille states that schools and communities have a role to play in maintaining toilets. EE agrees with this. EE parent groups undertake regular school clean-ups.
But Zille is wrong to suggest that this is the only issue. Her government is clearly at fault too. In Khayelitsha there are simply too few toilets (working or otherwise) at schools. A November 2011 audit of primary school bathrooms in Khayelitsha, completed by the City of Cape Town’s Department of Environmental Health, found that 21/34 (62%) of the schools surveyed had fewer toilets than they needed. Overuse and overloaded toilets are more likely to break, another reason we need national Norms and Standards – even in the Western Cape.
7. Zille tries to explain away the under-spending of the national Department of Basic Education on school infrastructure by blaming the dysfunctional Department of Public Works.
Yet when Zille criticises the inability of provincial education departments to spend their infrastructure budgets, nowhere does she mention Public Works. Why this inconsistency? Maybe because Zille wants voters to believe that all problems can be solved if they “elect competent provincial governments”. We agree that competent provincial governments are vital to education, as is a competent national government, and for both of these we need clear standards to be set and active community organisations to ensure delivery.
8. Zille asks for more information about the 2009 and 2012 draft Norms and Standards which Equal Education cited in its original press statement. Here is a link to Minister Motshekga’s 2009 draft. We mentioned a 2012 draft in error – we were referring to Motshekga’s January 2013 draft. The point is that Motshekga has issued two of her own drafts, so why, when evaluating what Norms and Standards will mean for Treasury, does Zille fixate on Naledi Pandor’s 2008 draft?
9. Zille says that we “do not need Norms and Standards” for schools to be provided with water, electricity, toilets and fencing. She says that “[t]here are other ways to deal with the breaches” – without explaining what these are – and goes on to say that “[s]chools without adequate water and sanitation are breaking laws that already exist, such as the Water Service Act 108 of 1997.”
However, the Water Services Act says nothing at all about schools. To the best of our knowledge no national law detailing norms and standards for sanitation in schools exists. For example, how many students should have to share one toilet or tap – 50, 100, 1000? Do toilets need to be maintained, and if so how frequently? As a result students face serious risks in health and safety, and education suffers.
10. Zille advises EE to “run a project to install solar panels at schools that still do not have electricity”, instead of “a misdirected campaign” for Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.
This statement by Zille conveys a deeply problematic message: it suggests that the Premier doesn’t value independent voices in society, especially from poor communities, and especially when they criticise government. The implication is that the Premier would prefer people to take up charitable projects and let government get on with its work, or not, as the case may be.
In any case Premier Zille knows about EE’s Bookery Project. It has opened, stocked and staffed 26 libraries in township schools in the Western Cape since May 2010. This is more than the Western Cape Education Department over the same period.
EE is a social movement which campaigns for quality and equal education for all. We consider educational inequality in our country to be systemic – to be rooted in our Apartheid past, and perpetuated by policies, politics and behaviour, which run counter to the interests of the poor.
We will continue to campaign for Norms and Standards, which, in the end, will be part of the process of providing electricity to the more than 3500 schools across the country without it.