This is the first State of the Nation Address (SONA) since the death of former President Nelson Mandela. We hope his legacy will be carried forward as we celebrate 20 years of democracy. We also acknowledge and appreciate the role that was played by the late Chief Justices Arthur Chaskalson and Pius Langa in creating constitutional jurisprudence that strengthened our democracy.
President Jacob Zuma will be delivering his 6th SONA today. It will be interesting to take stock of the key promises he has made on the delivery of education since he became President. We hope the President will address some of the following issues: corruption and the lack of capacity in provinces; schools built from mud and other inappropriate materials; retention of learners and teacher knowledge and training.
SECTION 100(1)(b) INTERVENTIONS IN LIMPOPO AND THE EASTERN CAPE PROVINCES
We support the interventions by the national government in provinces where provincial government fails to deliver due to incapacity, but we have concerns on the progress and manner of implementation. Section 100(1)(b) of the Constitution empowers national government to intervene in the administration of provincial departments as it has done in the Eastern Cape in 2011 and in Limpopo in 2012. Some aspects of the Section 100(1)(b) interventions in both are progressing well. The Eastern Cape, in particular, saw a great turn-about when it received its first qualified audit since democracy in the 2012/13 financial year. However, after three years several of the reasons the province was put under national administration have not been adequately addressed. These include the development and provisioning of infrastructure and poor learner performance and learning outcomes.
The Constitution provides for a semi-federal system where the provinces have a large degree of autonomy. In light of this we are concerned by the pace at which the national intervention is progressing. It is imperative to ensure compliance with the Constitution, that the current state of affairs does not persist longer than is absolutely necessary. An independently functioning provincial government is also important for the proper fulfillment of learners’ constitutional rights.
In February 2013, the President said that 98 new schools would be built by the end of March 2013 and that more than 40 of these would be in the Eastern Cape and would replace mud schools. By May 2013 only 17 schools had been built in the Eastern Cape through ASIDI, a programme that was initially meant to eradicate and replace 495 inappropriate structures across the country by the end of 2013/14 financial year. The first batch of 49 schools was meant to have been completed in the 2010/11 financial year, but construction of these schools is still on-going to this day. The number of schools built as of date stands at 41.
The spending of funds allocated to ASIDI has been poor. The programme has been riddled with under expenditure from its inception. In the 2011/12 financial year R700 million was allocated to the programme, but only 2% of the budget was spent. The last Basic Education Annual Report, which looked at the 2012/13 financial year, highlighted that of the allocated R2 billion, approximately R1.2 billion was under-spent. This contradicts the President’s words at his first SONA in 2009, where he said government would, “have to act prudently-no wastage, no roll-overs of funds- [and] [that] every cent must be spent wisely and fruitfully.”
The tragic death of a Grade R learner falling into a pit-latrine at school in Limpopo, highlights how far the Department of Basic Education (Department) has to go in order to provide a safe and conducive learning environment. President Zuma needs to take the issue of inadequate school infrastructure more seriously and be more explicit about his plans for ensuring all infrastructure programmes are properly and timeously executed. The adoption of the Regulations on Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure is an important step in alleviating the infrastructure crisis, but the challenge now is to implement these Norms within the prescribed timeframes.
In 2009, President Zuma said in his SONA, “we will increase our efforts to encourage all pupils to complete their secondary education. The target is to increase enrollment rates in secondary schools to 95 per cent by 2014. We are also looking at innovative measures to bring back into the system pupils who dropped out of school, and to provide support.”
Enrollment rates have not increased to 95% in secondary schools. Instead, more children are forced out of the system. After grade 10, 45.5% of learners drop out of school. Out of 1 286 591 learners that started grade 1 in 2002, only 597 196 reached grade 12.
No innovative measures to increase retention have been introduced and implemented by the Presidency and the Department of Basic Education since making this announcement.
TEACHER KNOWLEDGE AND TRAINING
The President must speak on the government’s plan to ensure that teachers are trained adequately. The Department’s 2013 Macro Indicator Report, states that amongst other factors, teacher subject knowledge is one example of the challenges the education system faces. The Report says that South African teachers “have had more training but worse content knowledge than teachers in countries like Kenya and Tanzania.”
The SACMEQ study showed that only 32% of Grade 6 mathematics teachers in South Africa have the necessary subject knowledge in mathematics. By contrast, several other African countries have much higher proportions of mathematics teachers with desirable levels of content knowledge, for example: Kenya (90%), Zimbabwe (76%) and Swaziland (55%). This is substantiated by the Macro Indicator Report, which states that teacher subject knowledge is particularly low in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces. The report goes on to say that more than half of the mathematics teachers tested in Mpumalanga scored below the level needed to put them in the top 10% of grade 6 learners in the Western Cape.
The President must talk on the measures that will be put in place in order to address this challenge.
YOUTH WAGE SUBSIDY
We expect President Zuma to address the great social crisis in South Africa: youth unemployment and limited opportunities for young people to find meaningful, long-term employment, education and training. While the Employment Tax Incentive Act introducing the Youth Wage Subsidy promises jobs for young people, it’s unlikely that it will increase overall employment in the country. It also threatens the jobs of existing older workers and discriminates against small businesses.
Yoliswa Dwane: 076 706 2338
Hopolang Selebalo: 074 261 1672
Zenande Booi: 079 732 1591