Taking Legislature to the People

Taking Legislature to the People

The annual Taking Legislature to the People is being held in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro (NMBM) from 20-23 October, at the Missionvale Campus of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.  

Below is the speech by DA Shadow MEC for Education, Edmund van Vuuren, on the report by the Portfolio Committee on Education, on site visits to schools in the NMBM:

Honourable Speaker, Honourable Premier, protocol observed.

The Democratic Alliance is aware that our education system in the Eastern Cape is volatile and that it has a habitude of bringing the Government of the Eastern Cape into disrepute by perpetually failing those that are dependent upon them. The political sleaze and corruption prevalent in this department, as well as the consistently exposed retarding elements, have made this department one of the worst performers in the Eastern Cape.

The department has admitted that their poor record of performance and their non-compliance to policies and departmental prescripts, is because of laxity – yes, you’ve heard correctly – there is a culture of laziness, that is contributing to the malfunctioning of this mega department, responsible for spending more than R29-billion of tax payers’ monies.  Yet there is no consequence management for these deliberate actions – these are the reasons why our education system in the Eastern Cape is in such a mess.

Honourable Speaker, the MEC responsible for education in the Eastern Cape has declared 54 747 educator posts for 2016/2017.  This is 1 049 educator posts less than what we currently have and against the background of ever- increasing learner figures. It boggles the mind that although there is an increase in learner figures, there is a sharp decrease in educator posts. How then, does one reconcile logic in this determination – more learners, equals less educators – some logic.

In the Port Elizabeth area, our learner enrolment has grown from 159 500 in 2011 to 180 014 in 2015.  But contrary to the growth in learner figures, the educator posts have decreased from 5 675 to 5 417 over the same period, with actually 4 983 out of the 5 417 posts filled. It therefore implies that in Port Elizabeth 434 funded educator posts have not been filled this year.

In the schools within the Northern areas of Port Elizabeth, 197 substantive vacancies were not filled as at 11 August 2015.  Are we then surprised as to why there was a shutdown of practically all 55 schools in the Northern Areas? This Department of Education has indicated in reply to a written parliamentary question of mine that funds are available to fill some of the 197 vacant posts in the Northern Areas, as the Department is struggling to stay within the declared 55 796 education posts for 2015/2016. To be blatantly honest, the chances that these 434 substantive vacant posts, including the 197 in the Northern Areas, will be filled are as slim as my chances of outsprinting Usain Bolt.

The Democratic Alliance wants to, without any vagueness, express its dissatisfaction in the dysfunction displayed by this department in not appointing teachers, nor paying them, as mirrored in the R121 million under- expenditure recorded for the period January to March 2015 and failing to reassign the 2 438 unplaced additional educators.

This non-caring attitude in not creating opportunities for our learners to have a teacher in every available class in Port Elizabeth, and the lack of forward thinking with regard to the reassignment of additional educators is a portent of a coming educational storm.

The time for change is upon us, and as a collective, we cannot and must not allow a system that intermittently show signs of activity — such as providing meals to learners in an uncontrolled environment,  transporting some of our deserving learners, inadequate provision of Learner Teacher Support Material, refurbishing some of our dilapidated schools, half-heartedly addressing overcrowding in schools, especially in the Northern Areas, and clumsily attending to the safety of our schools — to derail the future of our children. We demand that all our learners and educators be treated fairly and that this department creates the opportunities for our learners to excel.

Honourable Speaker, the Department of Education has spent R200-million allocated for Learner Teacher Support Material for 2016 on staff salaries and school furniture. It is also to be believed that the Department of Education could only muster R120-million of the R479-million needed for next year’s books. It is evidently clear that the Department has no funds to procure all the textbooks for next year, and our learners, especially those disadvantaged, staying in areas such as Missionvale, Kleinskool, Motherwell, Helenvale and the extended Bethelsdorp, will be deprived of having a textbook for every subject offered, making the provision of quality education a farce.

A caring Government will never subject their subordinates to such malicious treatment. Beware, change is coming, and change will be for the better for our people that have not tasted the fruits of a better life. The Democratic Alliance will ring-fence monies for their intended purposes.

Honourable Speaker, half of the schools in Port Elizabeth are running empty. Currently there are 142 schools in the townships of Port Elizabeth being highly underutilised, whilst 47 schools in the Northern Areas are highly overcrowded. The issue of bussing learners across the city from Sadtu-aligned schools to non- Sadtu dominated schools has chaotic consequences – overcrowded schools in certain areas, empty schools in other communities – there is a lack of teachers in some schools resulting in underworked, essentially overpaid teachers versus overworked demoralised others. No self-respecting parent will wilfully compromise their child’s education by closing schools; they are driven by exasperation and hopelessness by the situation in these schools that are now half empty.

Honourable Speaker, the issue of Grade R practitioners in the Port Elizabeth District is astounding in that those that are professionally qualified, are treated differently to their colleagues in the Graaff-Reinet District. In Graaff-Reinet, the professionally qualified Grade R practitioners have been permanently appointed as post level 1 educators to grade 1 to 3 vacant substantive posts retrospective from 01 April 2015.

Why then, must our own professionally qualified Grade R practitioners in the Port Elizabeth District be discarded for absorption into the Foundation Phase and be dependent on a miniscule stipend of R5 300 per month, whilst their newly promoted colleagues in Graaff-Reinet earn three times more than them? Am I missing something here? Is this Department practising double standards or is there a two tier education system that I’m not aware of. Could the Honourable MEC apprise us as to the reasons for this discriminatory and divisive action?

Honourable Speaker, permanently appointed educators that have resigned their posts are re-appointed in their said provinces in schools where vacant substantive posts exist. Why then, is this accepted in other provinces, but not in the Eastern Cape? Has this Department in the Eastern Cape considered reviewing its policy on the re-appointment of those educators in similar circumstances as those mentioned in other provinces?

The re-appointment of these educators, especially in the Northern Areas, where we have a multitude of overcrowded schools, will go a long way in alleviating the current vacancies experienced by these schools.

Hopefully, the MEC has listened, and if he has, we will see changes for the better – if no changes are visible, than he has refused to take advice. With the last shutdown of schools in the Northern Areas during the month of July, the MEC for Education subsequently held meetings with stakeholder groups. Promises were made by the MEC that unresolved issues that have led to the shutdown will be promptly addressed, but until today our schools in the Northern Areas are still waiting.  Yes, they are still waiting for the promises to be realised.

This governing party is a party of promises as displayed by the MEC for Education, whilst our mayoral candidate in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, Honourable Athol Trollip, is interacting with real people with real issues, without making any unobtainable promises. There is a saying that goes as follows:  it doesn’t matter the colour of the cat, as long as it eats mice.

In conclusion, the Democratic Alliance extends its well wishes to all our 92 000 matriculants in the Eastern Cape with the writing of the Grade 12 examination that starts on 26 October 2015.  Our wish is for all of you to pass.  And if you are not successful the first time, don’t despair. Lift yourself up and try again.

The Democratic Alliance supports the report.