President Jacob Zuma will be giving his 8th State of the Nation address on 12 February. This is also the second SONA under the national assembly that was constituted last year after elections. As Equal Education we are hoping that the President will address the following important issues: The implementation of the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure; the schooling system’s poor learning outcomes; the problem of youth unemployment and failure of the Youth Wage Subsidy.
In South Africa there remains an extreme gap between rich and poor public schools with regard to both learning conditions and learning outcomes. Quality facilities and teaching remain, disproportionately, in wealthy urban areas – serving a very small proportion of South Africans.
Despite significant reforms, near universal access to schooling and high enrollment numbers, our schooling system continues to entrench those divides established by apartheid era policy – failing to close the gap between historically wealthy and historically disadvantaged areas. Our schooling system fails to prepare the majority of South African learners to compete in an increasingly skills-intensive economy, to access and excel in higher education, and to escape poverty by participating in the economy.
Access to adequate teaching and learning environments is highly unequal in South Africa. Despite increased expenditure on developing school infrastructure and commitment to addressing infrastructure backlogs, implementation remains a problem. In the 2012 SONA the president unveiled a National Infrastructure Plan (the ‘National School Build Programme’) under the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Committee, however, the coordination processes between the two main national programs – the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) and the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) – is becoming increasingly convoluted and opaque.
EE is concerned about the implementation of the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.  The Norms and Standards were promulgated into law on the 29th of November 2013 after 3 years of tireless campaigning by EE. The Norms and Standards state that by 29 November 2016 all schools without any access to water, electricity and sanitation, and all schools made entirely of mud, wood, metal and asbestos, must be addressed.
According to the reported numbers in the 2014 National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS), of 23740 public schools, 604 schools have no water supply (3%), 1131 have no electricity (5%), 474 (2%) have no ablution facilities, 10721 (45%) have no access to libraries, 20463 (86%) have no laboratories, and 16146 (68%) have no computer labs. Despite improvement on previous years, we also see a decrease in the total number of schools on the NEIMS database, an increase in the use of unreliable sources of water and electricity, and despite improvements, pit-latrines are still widely used in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape.
The Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) planned the eradication of 496 (of 522) inappropriate schools by the end of the 2013/14 financial year. However, deadlines have been extended (due to implementation challenges) and funding has been reduced.
One of the biggest problems EE has faced in tracking progress in infrastructure roll-out is incongruity between different sets of backlog-lists between national and provincial programs and progress reports – a symptom of poor coordination, and possibly dishonesty. In addition, the process of addressing school infrastructure deficiencies has not been transparent. According to the Norms and Standards, all provincial education departments should have published their implementation plans by 29 November 2014 – but these have not been made public.
South African primary schools are failing to equip learners with basic literacy and numeracy skills. The reports issued by the DBE's National Education Evaluation and Development Unit (NEEDU) in 2012 (which assessed the Foundational Phase in urban areas) and 2013 (which assessed the Intermediate Phase in rural areas) found that basic literacy and numeracy skills were well below curriculum specifications . Rural schools, being less resourced and more remote, are most affected – it is unfortunate that Minister Motshekga has not made the 2013 NEEDU report available to the public.
Unsurprisingly, South Africa does not perform well in internationally benchmarked tests like the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS).  There exists massive inequality in performance between learners from rich schools and learners from poor schools on these standardised tests. The differences between the top 25% of schools and the rest are so marked that one can effectively speak of two different education systems – one functional, serving a minority of South Africans, and one marred with challenges , serving the rest of South Africa. 
At a high school level, approximately 50% of learners (about half a million) exit the schooling system before reaching Grade 12, and enter the economy without any formal qualifications. This has been a consistent and worrying trend.
The ‘success story’ of South Africa’s matric pass rate, when put into context, therefore becomes much less rosy. Furthermore, of those learners who write the National Senior Certificate exam, too many students are moving away from difficult subjects like mathematics and science, and among those who write these subjects, the marks are weak. There is also a clear divide in performance between rich and poor schools. Students from poorer schools are severely under-represented in higher education. 
EE therefore hopes that any mention of the progress of South Africa’s education system is qualified by reference to this extreme inequality in performance, inputs, and outputs.
We recently welcomed the recommendation to National Treasury, made by Parliament's Appropriations Committee, to establish a conditional grant for learner transport.  There are thousands of learners in rural provinces who walk long distances to access schooling daily. The effects of the lack of provision of transport for many learners in rural areas who have to walk long distances to school includes high drop-out rates, frequent absenteeism, and high prospects of sexual and physical exploitation of learners when making the journey to and from school on foot.
We are calling for the strengthening of provincial management and accountability structures. EE calls for the adoption of the draft Nation Scholar Transport Policy of 2009. This policy on scholar transport has now been in the making for more than 6 years – resulted in the inconsistent and unfocused provision of scholar transport services at the provincial level and a lack of proper budgeting for the service, to the detriment of learners.
Employment Tax Incentive
EE has called for the scrapping of the Employment Tax Incentive. What was previously known as the Youth Wage Subsidy, has been shown to have no discernible effect on youth employment probabilities. As initially pointed out by EE in our 2013 submission to Treasury, the tax subsidy may simply be a very expensive government subsidy to businesses, with very limited impact on youth unemployment.
EE therefore calls for renewed efforts to increase youth employment and increase skills development; we also need meaningful training programs for young people.
The SONA should pay closer and specific attention to education. The implementation of norms and standards should be top on the priority list, with less than 2 years left to address the issue of schools without any access to water, electricity and sanitation, and all schools made entirely of mud, wood, metal and asbestos. Plans by MEC’s must be made public immediately so that civil society can better monitor implementation.
What happens in the classroom continues to be a huge concern for many South Africans, it is clear that what really needs to happen is a focus on primary school education, and closer attention to learning outcomes. We need adequate teaching programs that will bridge teacher content knowledge.
Scholar transport continues to be a challenge particularly in rural areas, we are calling for the immediate adoption of the National Scholar Transport Policy of 2009.
We should all be concerned about what happens to these learners once they leave the basic education sector, the employment tax incentive does not guarantee young people any better prospects. We call for the scrapping of the employment tax incentive and more genuine efforts to have meaningful training programs for young people.
Lastly, Equal Education insists that President Zuma and Speaker Baleka Mbete adhere to the rules of Parliament which require the President to appear four times per year and answer questions. We are also calling for the President to immediately begin to implement the report of the Public Protector requiring partial repayment of the money the state spent on his private Nkandla home.
For more information:
Wim Louw (EE researcher)
071 685 8919
Nombulelo Nyathela (spokesperson)
060 503 4933
Yoliswa Dwane (EE Chairperson and head of PCR)
076 706 2338
 See EE’s Basic Education Shadow Report: A Review of the Department of Basic Education’s Performance in the 2013/2014 Financial Year, URL: https://www.equaleducation.org.za/file/2015-02-03-equal-education-shadow-report-1
 See the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Programme progress report by Department of Basic Education, in presence of Deputy Minister (18 February 2014), URL: https://pmg.org.za/committee-meeting/16936/; See also footnote 
 Doron Isaacs, ‘Mud Schools: a decade of lying to children’, Groundup (March, 2013), URL:http://groundup.org.za/content/mud-schools-decade-lying-children
 Spaull, N. & Taylor, S. (2012). “Effective enrolment” – Creating a composite measure of educational access and educational quality to accurately describe education system performance in sub-Saharan Africa. Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers: 21/12; Van der Berg, S. et al. (2011), 'Low Quality Education as a poverty trap', URL: https://www.andover.edu/GPGConference/Documents/Low-Quality-Education-Poverty-Trap.pdf
 See Spaull, N. (2012). Poverty & Privilege: Primary School Inequality in SouthAfrica. Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers: 13/12
 See EE’s ‘On the 2014 matric results’, URL: https://www.equaleducation.org.za/article/2015-01-07-on-the-2014-matric-results, and Mary Metcalfe, 'Has education system come to the party?', Saturday Independent (2015), URL: http://www.iol.co.za/sundayindependent/has-education-system-come-to-the-party-1.1803445#.VNnkip2UePN
 EE, 2015. ‘EE, PSAM and EELC welcome recommendations to National Treasury for the establishment of a Conditional Grant for Learner Transport’, URL: https://www.equaleducation.org.za/article/2015-02-05-joint-press-statement-by-ee-psam-and-eelc ; see also footnote 1.
 See EE, 2015. 'Youth Wage Subsidy shown to have 'zero' effect', URL: https://www.equaleducation.org.za/article/2015-01-14-youth-wage-subsidy-shown-to-have-zero-effect