Speech notes: Annual report of Department of Education 2015/16 by Edmund van Vuuren MPL

Hon Speaker, Hon Premier, members of the executive, colleagues, officials, dignitaries and visitors, it gives me great joy to represent the Democratic Alliance in this debate.

Hon Speaker, the Democratic Alliance, is not surprised, though perplexed, with the lack of congruency in the execution of responsibilities assigned to certain officials within the Department of Education, if the findings of the multiparty portfolio committee of education are to be scrutinised.  I have also sadly observed, having gleaned over the last seven annual reports of the Department of Education, that there is a shortcoming in futuristic foresight in that most of our findings are a reflection of what transpired in the previous years.  It also seems, Hon Speaker, that there is no committed dedication and where vital to the task at hand, resulting in the obvious not been achieved.

Hon Speaker, allow me to elaborate on some of the findings in this report:

The department targeted 4150 schools to be visited by district officials for monitoring and supporting purposes, but eventually only visited 343 schools.  The department is claiming lack of resources, but in reality, there was a two-week industrial action at Head Office with respect to contentious issues of teacher development, excess teachers and other associated Post Provisioning Norms matters.

Our schools and especially these 560 underperforming secondary schools have not received the support that would have most probably enabled them to achieve a higher outcome.  Most of these schools because of the low percentage contact with the district officials could also not be evaluated in order to achieve the anticipated outcomes.  The department has therefore miserably failed our schools in supporting them.

Hon Speaker, there is a challenge that continues to plague the department, for as long as I have been a member of the Portfolio Committee of Education, the shortage and absence of teachers with requisite skills and the inefficient management of vacancies.

Hon Speaker, the department as a whole is underspending by a huge R363, 035 million in compensation of employees as at the end of September 2016 as a result of natural attrition and slow implementation of the Annual Recruitment Plan and the Human Resource Capacitation.

At the end of the 2015/16 financial year, the department has underspent an enormous R166, 580 million owing to high attrition rate and non-filling of teacher posts.  This is against the background that there were 60% of schools with vacant posts in excess of 12 months.  The number of teacher vacancies as at December 2015 for the province was at 5727 and the number of additional educators was at 5478.

The Democratic Alliance sincerely hopes that with assistance from the Office of the Premier and Treasury that appointments in these substantive vacancies were made and that excess teachers were reassigned to where their services are needed.   We understand that the department has a challenge in filling certain posts, especially those where Afrikaans and Sesotho are the languages for teaching and learning.

The teaching of critical subjects such as Maths, Science, Accounting and certain languages will always be a challenge and the department needs to revise a plan in order to have these subjects taught in schools where the need exists.  Promises were made that no classroom will be without a teacher in 2015/16 financial year, but with the information at hand, a plethora of classrooms did not have the privilege to have a teacher in from of them.  Let us turn the boat around and make no promises.

Between January 2015 and June 2015, the system lost a total of 2343 teachers with 1105 (47%) leaving the system through resignations.  The department has however projected this number to escalate by 3608 by the close of 2016/17 MTEF – what then are the plans to fill these vacancies, if the Department cannot fill existing vacancies.  Where are we going to get the teachers from and how soon.

This department receives the bulk share of revenue allocated to the province by the National Treasury receiving R31 billion for 2016/17 MTEF, an increase from R29 billion in 2015/16.  At the end of 2015/16 financial year the department of education had R530 million of its Education Infrastructure Grant taken back by National Treasury due to slow expenditure.  This amounted to 33% of the total grant of R1, 594 billion, while this department was supposed to have eradicated all improper structures by 2016 and the provision of electricity, water and sanitation to these schools, but it underspent by R530 million, leaving these schools in dire need.

This, Hon Speaker, is unacceptable and we need to discover whether government is in breach of their own commitment.  By 29 November 2016, all schools built by mud, zinc, wood and asbestos should have been prioritised, but some of these schools are not even on the B5 for priority.

Hon Speaker, the Department of Education should be challenged as to why they are failing to provide proper school infrastructure to mostly rural learners.

The Democratic Alliance is satisfied that a condition assessment was made of all our schools and that it was determined that there is a facilities backlog of R52, 6 billion up till 2030.

The department must now inform this Legislature as to how these schools are going to be prioritised as per their condition classification and where will the R52, 6 billion be found over the next 13 years in order to have school buildings that are conducive to quality teaching and learning.

Hon Speaker, the rationalisation of small and unviable schools is painstakingly slow and a more concerted effort should be made to follow due processes.  It is not happening, that is why more than 1900 schools out of the original 2077 schools identified, are still far from being merged because of reasons such as distances to the receiving school is too far, no access roads, policies wrongly applied, the school is a legacy from the chief, what will happen to the buildings, no hostel accommodation, no transport, community built the schools, community factions with neighbouring villages, it was the first school built in and around these villages.  Please, these objections should be taken seriously and resolved in the interest of the child.

Hon Speaker, it was rumoured in the 2014/15 financial year that the ruling party is going to instruct those in government to start the process of designing a policy to have school inspectors appointed, as well as reviewing the processes as to how school principals are to be appointed.

Both the appointment of school inspectors and the reviewed process for appointment of school principals are long overdue, considering the state of underperforming schools in the province as well as the lack of monitoring and support to the majority of our schools.

I sincerely hope that the department has started working on all modalities with regards to the processes of planning and budgeting.  Hopefully the current change fatigue within the department will adapt to renewals and improved systems that will benefit our learners.

The Democratic Alliance is aware that there are still systemic challenges and resistance to change, but hopefully with the newly appointed Superintendent General, this resistance to change will subside.

Hon Speaker, as a member of the Democratic Alliance and the Government in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, it gives me great pleasure to support the report, tabled here today.

I thank you.