Yesterday Basic Education Minister Minister, Angie Motshekga delivered her post-Council of Education Ministers (CEM) meeting statement, and her 2017 Budget Vote speech. EE welcomes the Minister’s commitment to explore funding for the National Learner Transport Policy by means of a conditional grant, and her declaration that early learning is the DBE’s “most important priority”.
However, EE remains concerned about the DBE’s self-congratulatory outlook on school infrastructure, when it and all nine provincial education departments stand in violation of the school infrastructure law (the Norms and Standards). And while EE is pleased that school safety and security is on the agenda of CEM, we urge Minister Motshekga and her MECs to take concrete steps towards addressing the crisis, as detailed in EE’s Western Cape Schools Social Audit Report.
AT LAST, DBE COMMITS TO EXPLORING A CONDITIONAL GRANT FOR SCHOLAR TRANSPORT!
Since 2014, EE has been campaigning for provision of scholar transport in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and in South Africa. Members of EE based in Nquthu, in northern KZN, raised a lack of scholar transport as a serious barrier to accessing education. EE has previously made submissions to Parliament related to the implementation of a conditional grant for scholar transport, and the rationale for this much-needed additional, ring-fenced funding. In 2016 and 2017, EE and the EE Law Centre (EELC) made submissions before the Standing Committee on Appropriations, making a case for a conditional grant for scholar transport. Earlier this week we again made a case for a conditional grant in a written submission to the Portfolio Committee on Education, ahead of the Committee’s meeting with a joint presentation from the Departments of Basic Education and Transport, to discuss scholar transport.
We are thus extremely pleased that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has finally made a commitment to engage National Treasury on introducing a scholar transport grant. In Minister Motshekga’s own words: “…the Department is open to looking at a case for the ring fencing of the learner transport budget in the form of a conditional grant to ensure that the budget is spent in the area it is intended for. The relevant engagement will be untaken with treasury to see if this is a possibility.”
This is a victory for EE members who have worked tirelessly to put free, safe scholar transport on the agenda of national and provincial government. However, the DBE’s engagement with National Treasury must be meaningful, and the outcomes shared publicly. We will hold the DBE to their commitment!
DEFICIENCIES IN THE NATIONAL LEARNER TRANSPORT POLICY
In 2015, the Department of Transport (DoT) published the National Learner Transport Policy. While EE welcomed this, the policy has significant gaps and it requires further detail and development in order to effectively realise its stated objectives. EE and the EELC submitted a comprehensive analysis of the policy to the DoT and to the DBE, raising the following concerns:
- The criteria for identifying beneficiaries of subsidised scholar transport is inadequate;
- The policy does not provide sufficient clarity or coherent mechanisms for multi-
- stakeholder coordination;
- There is not sufficient guidance on how planning for learner transport provision will be undertaken;
- The policy does not provide timeframes and deadlines for implementation; and
- There are no mechanisms stipulated to ensure adequate funding and budgeting.
In order for the policy to most effectively address that learners walk unthinkably long distances to school, the DoT must remedy these deficiencies. Minister Motshekga, in her post-CEM statement, painted a rosy picture of interdepartmental collaboration, citing the establishment of the National Inter-Departmental Committee (NIDC), its quarterly meetings and its subsequent reports submitted both to her and the Minister of Transport. However, in the provision of scholar transport, there are provinces in which learner transport is provided by the provincial DoT, while the provincial education department takes responsibility for the same function in other provinces. This means that the funding for this policy comes from different components of each province’s budget. For a conditional grant to be implemented, National Treasury will likely require a more uniform approach to the implementation of the national National Learner Transport Policy. Thus, the national DBE and national DoT must urgently resolve which department will administer the conditional grant. Failing this, it will be difficult for National Treasury to design and allocate funds to this desperately-needed grant.
DATA ON THE NUMBER OF LEARNERS THAT WALK TO SCHOOL, AND THOSE IN NEED OF SCHOLAR TRANSPORT
Two of the statistics quoted in EE’s submission to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education meeting held on 23 May regarding the number of learners who walk to school have been disputed by the DBE, with Minister Motshekga specifically referring to the figures as “grossly incorrect” in her CEM Media Briefing. The figures we quoted were obtained from Statistics South Africa publications. That different government entities report widely varying figures is a cause for concern, not in the least because it hinders the effective provision of scholar transport.
The DBE’s own figures on the number of learners in need of, and the number of the learners being provided with, scholar transport, show that it is failing tens of thousands of learners. In the DBE’s 2015/16 Annual Report, 516 886 learners were identified as requiring scholar transport. Of this amount, only 386 448 learners were actually transported. The DBE’s 2017 School Readiness Report presented before the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education this week, identified 524 662 learners as requiring scholar transport, but only 405 047 learners would be transported in the 2016/17 financial year, leaving 119 615 learners stranded.
While it is reasonable to expect the DBE to know how many learners it actually transports, there is reason to doubt its assessments of how many learners need, and qualify for transport. EE has experience from its campaign for scholar transport in Nquthu, that the KZN DoE incorrectly classifies learners as attending schools of ‘choice’ rather than their nearest school, and consequently does not consider them to qualify for transport. Such learners would not be contained within a DBE assessment of the need for scholar transport. Furthermore, the National Learner Transport Policy does not specify a distance which learners would need to travel in order to qualify for transport. The KZN Learner Transport Policy specified 3 km in one direction, while the Minister yesterday spoke of 5 km. It is not clear where this number comes from, as no Norms and Standards have been published for the National Policy. What is clear though, is that the number of learners considered ‘in need’ by the DBE has scope to vary widely depending on variable criteria. For instance, the joint presentation by DoT and DBE to the Portfolio Committee states that in 2016/17, 521 711 learners were in need of transport, while in 2017/18, 556 294 learners required the same service. The size of this increase suggests that the DBE may have now captured learners it had previously missed.
SAFETY AND SECURITY IN AND AROUND SCHOOLS
In her post-CEM media statement, Minister Motshekga highlighted that the MECs repeatedly raised serious concern around safety and security in and around schools. EE has consistently sought to engage the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) in particular about the urgent need to address school violence in the province.
School safety is indeed a serious and urgent issue. The National School Violence Surveys (NSVS) conducted in 2008 and 2012 by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP), found disturbingly high levels of violence in South African public schools. According to the latest NSVS, an estimated one in five learners are victims of violence at school each year. In the Western Cape this statistic it is even higher at two in seven learners. One in eight learners surveyed by CJCP in 2012 reported threats of violence, one in sixteen reported assault, and roughly one in twenty had experienced sexual assault. A separate study published by UNISA, found that an estimated 55% of learners experience some form of violence at school.
With such high levels of violence reported, it is clear that drastic measures are necessary to ensure that schools are safe spaces conducive to learning. We welcome the commitment by the CEM to work more closely with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to ensure that South African schools become safe learning spaces. In the Western Cape EE has repeatedly called on the education department and SAPS to work together more closely. Interventions should address violence committed by both outsiders and insiders at schools.
EE’s social audit of 244 Western Cape schools showed that learners are not safe in school and that there is a sanitation and infrastructure crisis in the province. EE’s findings include:
- Corporal punishment occurred at 83% of audit schools
- At 91% of those schools, teachers discipline learners with weapons such as sticks
- One third of learners surveyed experience forms of discrimination
- At 1 out of 9 schools a stabbing had occurred in the last year
- Less than half (47%) of schools have a full-time security guard
- At only 54% of the schools with security guards had those guards been trained
- While 98% of schools were fenced, only half have a fence that can actually keep people out
In the 2012 NSVS, the Western Cape is one of two provinces where all types of school crimes had increased from 2008 to 2012, with the exception of threats of violence, which had shown a reduction.
Despite these realities and repeated calls from EE to prioritise school safety, the provincial MEC, Debbie Schäfer, has continued to show a lack of political will to address school violence. Scrutiny of the WCED budget allocations toward improving school safety highlights that these issues simply are not pressing political concerns for the department.
For instance, while the Safe School programme’s budget nominally grew from R11 million in 2000 to R25 million in 2015/16, when one adjusts for inflation it becomes evident that the Safe School programme’s budget is falling in real terms year on year. Furthermore, the entire Safe Schools Programme implementation budget as a proportion of the overall WCED budget is tiny. The Safe Schools sub-directorate also remains one of the smallest within the WCED with a total staff number of just 46 to serve 1600+ schools.
We call on MEC Schäfer to follow the example of the CEM (of which she is a member) by recognising that school violence needs to be urgently addressed. We urge her to follow up such a recognition with substantive actions such as providing safe ways for learners to report rape and sexual assault, increasing funding for the Safe Schools Programme and effectively collaborating with SAPS to secure schools.
Minister Motshekga spoke briefly on school infrastructure in both her budget speech and her post-CEM statement. Her most noteworthy claim was that since 2009, 920 schools had been built by government. This is a sizeable achievement. However, a single statistic risks decontextualising the broader infrastructure crisis in the country’s schools. It must be noted that the DBE, and provincial education departments, have thus far failed to achieve their planned outputs, or meet their binding legal obligations around infrastructure.
The DBE, in a presentation to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education in March this year, stated that of the 106 schools targeted to be built in 2016/17 by provincial departments, only 38 had at that stage been built. The DBE’s own ASIDI programme has also underperformed: the 174 schools it had built by March 2017 are just some of the 510 school baseline which were intended to be replaced by 2014. As a result the lifetime of the grant has been extended, and it has lost billions of rands in reductions.
The Minister also spoke to the funding allocations to the two grants responsible for school infrastructure delivery: R2,6 Billion for the nationally-administered Accelerated School Infrastructure Development Initiative (ASIDI) and R10,05 Billion for the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG), which is split up between provincial departments. ASIDI’s planned merger with the EIG was due to begin in 2017/18, but has been delayed a further year due to incomplete projects.
It is disappointing that Minister Motshekga did not speak to the deadlines laid out in the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. By the DBE’s own admission, the first deadline of 29 November last year has been missed: by this time, all schools were required to have been provided with water, electricity and sanitation, and all schools made of inappropriate structures replaced. What’s more, the Norms and Standards include longer timelines around the provision of sufficient classrooms, basic services, fencing, libraries and laboratories. EE would have liked to see the Minister address both the work required to remedy the outstanding three year deadline violations, and the plans to meet the 2020 deadline.
EE is encouraged to hear that the CEM considered areas where infrastructure delivery could be improved. Departmental capacity is a key constraint: the DBE reported in March that of the 574 provincial posts in infrastructure-related directorates, 252 stood vacant. With such a dire vacancies rate, infrastructure delivery will continue to creep forward at a snail’s pace. Speedy approval and payment of service providers also holds projects back, and implementing agents’ actual performance in building school infrastructure varies widely. The DBE’s Annual Report of last year states that “at present, our major weakness is the absence of norms and standards for some of the services we provide and inability to monitor compliance with norms and standards where they exist.” Concrete steps are urgently needed to speed this process up and ensure good value for public money. EE urges Minister Motshekga to follow this up with action, and provide practical details on how infrastructure delivery can be made more efficient.
EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
We applaud Minister Motshekga’s assertion that the DBE is “of the strong view that the internal efficiency of the system and quality basic education outcomes will be achieved through specific and deliberate interventions in the early grades.Therefore, the most important priority must be to improve the quality of learning and teaching, so that we can ensure improved quality outcomes in the early grades”.
As EE said in January prior to the release of the matric results, there is persistent overinvestment in Grade 12, when the largest investment is needed in the early school grades. The consequence of poor quality early childhood development, and poor quality foundation phase education, is that the opportunity to reduce learning gaps and develop the potential of children, irrespective of their home background, is lost. Children acquire learning deficits in the early grades. This is the root of underperformance in the later grades. EE’s current work includes examining whether Minister Motshekga’s crucial acknowledgement on early learning is backed by a coherent and strong policy framework, the necessary capacity within the DBE, and appropriate remedial action.
In the quest to build a capable State, we urge the DBE to focus on prioritising the urgent need to improve teaching and learning conditions, and this means adhering to the deadlines stipulated by the school infrastructure law. We further urge South Africans to guard their schools jealously from any form of disruption or destruction.
For further comment:
Mila Kakaza (EE Spokesperson) 076 553 3133
Sibabalwe Gcilitshana (EE Parliamentary Officer) 084 070 4947
Ntuthuzo Ndzomo (EE Deputy General Secretary) 072 931 4343