21 February 2023
Equal Education pre-budget statement: While government is focused on fixing Eskom, an #EducationBlackout is dimming the future of the country’s learners
Tomorrow, 22 February, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana will release the national budget for 2023, showing how government wants to spend its money over the next year. While many will be looking at how National Treasury will tackle the electricity problem, another crisis—one that is undermining the future of our children—will likely remain overshadowed. Every day, many learners across the country face serious difficulties and indignities at school, making it almost impossible to enjoy their constitutional right to a basic education. We are increasingly seeing overcrowded schools, insufficient teachers and learning resources, and deteriorating infrastructure. We are calling this crisis the #EducationBlackout—a direct threat to the futures of learners. This crisis, unlike that at Eskom, is not getting the necessary attention and urgency it deserves. This must change! Equal Education (EE) is calling on National Treasury to acknowledge this crisis in schooling by providing the needed money and oversight to ensure all learners’ futures are bright.
A system in the dark
According to publicly available national figures, which are often under-reported, most of the country’s 23 276 public schools are still without libraries (17 832), lack reliable electricity (3 343) and water (5 836) supplies, or rely on dangerous plain pit toilets (2 130) as their only form of sanitation. This is the daily reality of many learners from working-class and rural communities as education departments continuously fail to deliver even the most basic infrastructure and resources. The physical state of our schools is a clear indication that the system is not functioning as it should. Given these appalling conditions, it is no surprise that many learners struggle with foundational skills such as reading.
Policy statements and empty promises are simply not enough. The immediate priority in fixing the #EducationBlackout is to make sure that basic education gets adequate funding to provide schools with the resources they need to make learning possible.
Funding falling short
The sector has been facing a resource, infrastructure, and learning crisis and has been experiencing its own load shedding long before Eskom started theirs. Over the years, basic education funding has not kept up with inflation, growing learner enrolment and, more recently, the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Looking at the projections made for the budget this year, things are set to get worse, with basic education funding shrinking by 1.7% once inflation is taken into account.
This has a real impact on the quality of education that learners receive and means fewer resources and support for each learner, crumbling and insufficient school infrastructure, and insufficient or overworked and school staff.
However, there are glimpses of light during these dark times. Last year, after EE launched a campaign highlighting the disastrous effects of school overcrowding on teaching and learning, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced she was working with National Treasury to provide targeted funding for overcrowded schools through the Special Intervention Programme on Overcrowding in Schools. As the funding for this programme is set to begin this year, EE will be closely monitoring if any money is ring-fenced, as well as the amount of money that will be prioritised to address this urgent issue.
A spending crisis
Enough funding is only one part of the solution to fix the #EducationBlackout. There are also serious issues with the way that education departments spend the money given to them, whether it is irregular or wasteful spending or simply not spending the money at all. For instance, a briefing to Parliament by the Auditor-General of South Africa revealed the DBE as the government department with the third highest wasteful spending.
Reports by the Auditor General show that more than a quarter (29%) of the money, amounting to roughly R8.3 billion, allocated to school infrastructure grants between 2011 and 2021 was not spent, while a whopping R5.7 billion was irregularly spent between 2018 and 2021. Unless Treasury and government as a whole take big steps to ensure that the basic education sector spends its money properly, no amount of funding will be enough to address the problems in the sector. Without adequate funding and proper oversight and control over spending in the sector, there may be no end in sight for the crisis in the sector.
To keep the light of learning switched on for our children, and to prevent further deterioration of the sector, we call on National Treasury to help stop the #EducationBlackout now! In tomorrow’s budget speech, EE calls on Minister Godongwana and National Treasury to:
- recognise the #EducationBlackout and end austerity budgeting now!;
- ensure that, at the very least, funding for basic education keeps up with inflation (the increase in cost of goods and services) and learner enrolment;
- make sure that the Public Procurement Bill, which will help fight corruption and mismanagement in school infrastructure delivery, is finalised as quickly as possible; and
- take its oversight role seriously and help fight mismanagement of public funds allocated to education departments.
To arrange a media interview, contact:
Jay-Dee Cyster (Equal Education Communications Manager) firstname.lastname@example.org or 082 924 1352