Speech notes by Jane Cowley MPL, on the budget vote of the Department of Education, 17 May 2017

Madam Speaker, Honourable Premier, Honourable members of the Executive Council, Honourable members of the Legislature, visitors, good afternoon.

South Africa is staring down the barrel of a very big gun. This gun is called national loan debt and currently stands at R2.2- trillion.  Servicing the debt this year will cost us in excess of R162-billion, the equivalent of the budgets of three provinces. There is absolutely NO SPACE for any deviation from the budgets as they stand, and a massive undertaking must be made to generate more own income.

Madam Speaker, the education budget for the Eastern Cape is the biggest budget in the province, and rightly so. If we fail to educate our children, we fail as a society. I would caution MEC Makupula, through you Madam Chair, to be very brave and very brutal in trimming the fat off the Education portfolio in order to deliver this most essential of services. While the task ahead is daunting, mitigating steps can be taken.

Madam Speaker, I should like to highlight a few.

Firstly, all outstanding litigation that involves the Department needs to be finalised as a matter of urgency. It is time that the legal fraternity stops seeing government departments as cash cows that can be milked indefinitely. It is also time for the departments to perform in such a way as to avoid litigation.

Secondly, all forms of corruption within the department must be rooted out and all those found to be corrupt must be fired with immediate effect. The department is NOT a facility of sheltered employment for colleagues who transgress the law. The fifteen senior managers who failed to declare their business interests with the department should, by now, be past employees. The Democratic Alliance believes in swift and decisive action against corrupt practises, which is why the Western Cape has the cleanest audit performance in the country.

Thirdly, Madam Speaker, the infrastructure programme has not yet achieved its mandate to replace all mud and zinc schools and their budget has been significantly reduced. Further, maintenance of school and hostel buildings will become ever more important as we face economic challenges that will severely limit investment in new structures. The infrastructure programme must consolidate their efforts and be honest about the status of their operations from the outset.

Fourth, Madam Speaker, the scholar transport system must service all deserving learners. The Grahamstown High Court has already ruled on this issue, stating that transport to and from school is a basic right of a learner. If there is insufficient budget for such, I would humbly suggest that funding from non-core programmes, such as Operation Masiphathisane, be channelled to the essential task of transporting learners to and from school. Citizens already have platforms to engage with government. Government just needs to be there. The societal need to educate our children must take preference.

Next is LTSM.  A forensic audit into the exorbitant cost of Learner Teacher Support Material to the department nationally would not be amiss, but the delivery thereof falls squarely on the shoulders of this department. Delivery must not be compromised again.

And now Madam Speaker, let us focus on the core business of teaching and learning and the measures we can take to ensure that the quality of both improves:

One of the findings of the report focuses again on the lack of capacity amongst teachers, as well as substandard professionalism. This is not surprising, as a core function of SADTU is securing jobs for members but not necessarily filling of posts with people who have the necessary capacity for doing the job. The most effective way to assess, and thus improve the quality of teachers and principals is to assess them externally. Until SADTU acknowledges this, the status quo will remain. The Democratic Alliance practises external assessments and competency tests for Principals in the Western Cape and the results speak for themselves. According to the Eastern Cape results, the Integrated Quality Management System (IQMS) has not improved teaching and has been a very costly mistake.

There is no place for mediocrity in teaching, Madam Speaker, and this is why we must generate innovative ideas for improving teaching and learning. The Hon Ndamase said yesterday that the opposition parties must not always oppose the ruling party for the sake of doing so, but by the same token, the ruling party must not always oppose innovative ideas that come from the opposition parties just because they come from the opposition parties.

Whilst we have the lowest matric pass rate in the country, we also have dozens of schools that achieve excellent results across all subjects. Let us take advantage of the skills that prevail in these schools by developing a mentoring programme for teacher graduates in these schools across all phases. Graduates assist the teacher and present a designated number of lessons per week, guided by the teacher. They develop best practise skills and in return, the school finds relief from the pressures created by soaring teacher learner ratios. A stipend paid to the school for sharing best practise would inspire other schools to follow suit.

Madam Speaker, I wish to speak about two major programmes that are currently underway in the department of Education. The first is the new Service Delivery model, which seeks to streamline administration. This effort is admirable as it will cut administrative costs. However, our province is geographically huge and a streamlined administration must still be able to serve every school in every corner, both effectively and efficiently.

The second programme is rationalisation of schools. Through you Madam Speaker, I wish to appeal to the MEC to exercise due diligence when considering rationalising rural schools. I say this for two reasons: Firstly, 33 000 learners out of 110 000 who qualify for transport, have been failed by the Scholar Transport system. Effectively they have been denied their right to education.  Rural learners bear the brunt of these failures as urban learners have other options for schooling. If they are failing the rural learners now, will this failure not be exacerbated when the distances to centralised schools are that much further? Hostels will only accommodate so many learners and there will always remain a number of rural schools to serve learners in remote areas. These learners must never be left wanting as a result of their geographical circumstances.

We need to create innovative solutions for these isolated schools. What better way to connect to the world than via solar powered computers? These have been developed by a South African company to withstand hot, dusty conditions, run off less energy than an energy-saving lightbulb, and have a  built in wireless card so they don’t need to be linked up to a service provider or a cellphone subscription. This creates a massive saving on infrastructure. Best of all, they are cheap and locally produced.  Rolling these out in our rural areas would mean that learners in Mqanduli have the same access to information as learners in Kingswood College. This is the kind of meaningful redress that the DA is committed to!

Finally, Madam Speaker, we need to radically transform the way we deliver education in our schools, in light of global technological trends. We must equip our learners to not only survive, but THRIVE in this technological world, in order to compete effectively for, and secure, jobs in the future.

The Democratic Alliance supports the Education report.