Speech notes by Edmund van Vuuren, MPL, Education budget vote debate — 23 July 2014

Honourable Speaker, Honourable Premier, members of the Executive, Honourable members and colleagues, officials from the Department of Education, dignitaries and visitors – I warmly greet you today.

Honourable Speaker, as a member of the Democratic Alliance, I will be failing in my assessment of the performance of the Department of Education if I do not concede that inroads have been made in guaranteeing to some extent quality education to our learners.  I must acknowledge and affirm that the Department of Education has, after 11 years, quietly surprised me in populating the staff establishments at a number of schools.

I need to commend the MEC for Education, Honourable Mandla Makupula, for overseeing the reassignment of the additional teachers.  Out of the 5859 additional teachers, 2560 were appropriately placed, 1824 retained at their original workstations because of the increase in learner enrolment and the scarcity of critical subjects.  I hope that the balance of the 1475 additional teachers still in the system will either be retrained or sent back to universities to upgrade their qualifications in order to comply with the curriculum needs of their schools.  Hopefully the additional teachers will also assist in the incremental introduction of indigenous languages in our schools.

Honourable Speaker, I also want to commend the MEC for permanently appointing 502 Funza Lushaka bursary holders in posts which could not be filled by additional teachers because their qualifications did not match the profiles of these substantive vacant posts.

Honourable Speaker, I am concerned with the 1899 vacant posts within our schools, especially in Graaff Reinet, Somerset East, Cradock, Uitenhage, Sterkspruit and the Northern Areas of Port Elizabeth which will make curriculum delivery very difficult.  We already had illegal closure of schools in these areas as well as parents withholding their children from attending school because of obvious reasons.  We have seen this phenomena of bullying taking place, even in the presence of a teacher, just imagine what can happen in classrooms where there are no teachers – who is going to be held responsible if a learner is badly injured in instances where human resources were not provided for or where classrooms are so overcrowded because of lack of accommodation or the school is understaffed?  Let us not create an opportunity for learners to get hurt, but rather find ways to have all posts adequately filled sooner rather than later.

Honourable Speaker, I have noticed that 2326 teachers have left the employ of the Department of Education through natural attrition from 1 January 2014 to 30 June 2014 – I hope that the District Offices have a budget to appoint substitutes, or do you, Hon MEC, intend on filling these posts with the 1475 additional teachers? What then if these additional teachers do not fit the profile of these vacated posts?  Are we then going to have learners that are unsupervised, not taught and creating an unsafe environment?

Honourable Speaker, I am extremely happy that there are only 203 teachers out of the 406 that have over the last 3 years, in terms of the leave cycle, exceeded the 100 days of leave and were requested to get back to school. I’m not entirely happy with the leave management of teachers; I’m of the opinion that if the teachers do not want to exit the system based on their health condition they should return unconditionally to their schools.  Schools were badly affected by these absent teachers in that no substitutes were provided resulting in overcrowding of classes or no tuition.

Honourable Speaker, the Democratic Alliance supports the process of rationalization of small and unviable schools and the re-alignment of schools, namely primary and secondary schools.  191 schools across the Province were targeted for re-alignment, but sadly these grade 8 and 9 learners from junior secondary schools moved to secondary schools without resources accompanying them.  The District Offices, which were supposed to oversee and monitor this process, have dismally failed the Department in its initiatives – no infrastructure and other resources were redirected and this pilot program was a huge disaster for the Department.  Hopefully lessons were learned and those officials responsible for implementing this pilot program should be held accountable.

Honourable Speaker, the Democratic Alliance demands, in the interest of accessible quality education, that the MEC for education put attainable and sustainable plans in place to ensure that decision making and management structures are strengthened – even to the extent where there is non-compliance, corrective and punitive measures be introduced without delay.  Hopefully these actions will result in a payroll clean up, PILIR cases have been sorted out of which R11,2 million, dating back as far as 2010, must still be paid out to retirees, reassigning or redirecting of additional teachers, inefficiencies within Persal addressed – and maybe if the Department complies in having these conditions straightened considerations might be given for the R458 million to be solicited from the fiscus and hopefully the Department will then be able to have the additional R136 million to pay the 502 permanent appointees. The department will also then be in a position to appoint 972 non teachers, 94 subject advisors and 42 Education Department officers.  This withholding of the R458 million is a result of inefficiencies within the Department.

Honourable Speaker, education is the foundation for opportunities; hence it is the responsibility of the Department of Education to provide a conducive environment that will stimulate our leaners to do their best.

Honourable Speaker, I was accompanied by Annette Lovemore (DA MP) on an oversight tour of five Eastern Cape school hostels on 18 and 19 September 2013.  The five hostels – Daleview Primary School, Steytlerville, Hoerskool Jansenville, Aeroville Secondary School, Templeton Combined School.

Much is quite rightly made of children’s rights to basic education.  In any cases, that right can only be realized through children staying in hostels.  Very little attention is paid to the state of these hostels, or to the care children receive in the hostels.  Provincial education budgets are largely deficient with respect to catering for the needs of the hostels.

The Eastern Cape has 104 school hostels.  The province is undergoing a school rationalization process, whereby it proposed that numerous small rural schools close or merge.  This will necessitate the accommodation of rural children in hostels in small and larger towns and cities.

The Eastern Cape Department of Education was shamed into acknowledging the poor state of its school hostels which is an affront to the dignity of leaners, and saved only by rare, committed and caring individuals.

The Democratic Alliance hopes that condition assessments of all these hostels have been undertaken and those found in need of refurbishment will be addressed during the 3 year budget cycle.

Honourable Speaker, we have a multitude of underperforming schools in our Province and yet the Department of Education in the Province fails in its role as the appointing agent of school principals.  Too many teachers who are not appropriately qualified, who lacks leadership and management skills are recommended by school governing councils, who unfortunately have been influenced or don’t have the capacity to decide over such important matters, to be their preferred candidate for the post of principal.

I believe that it is incumbent upon the Department of Education to defer appointments of principals where these teachers have been elevated without having the necessary skills, experience or expertise.

Principals should be held accountable for poor management, poor discipline and poor educational outcomes. Principals should not be appointed based on their affiliations to a certain teacher union, but on appropriate qualifications.

Some of these newly appointed principals don’t even know how to draw up a school timetable or how to allocate work to teachers. If these are the principals the department appoints, then it is a reflection on the department. Do not compromise education by abdicating your responsibilities.

In conclusion, Honourable Speaker – monies have been set aside in the past for the establishment of a fully functional mathematics, science and technology academy, but sadly this has yet to materialize. The department has had plans for the establishment of this much needed academy, but till today plans are still in the pipeline while the number of schools not offering mathematics to their learners has increased from 41 schools in 2012 to 71 in 2014. This department is not serious about improving numeracy and mathematical skills amongst our learners. That is why our grade 9’s are perennial underperformers in mathematics and fewer learners offer it in the FET band.

Hopefully these long awaited plans will now be moved into top gear.

I thank you.