Speech notes by Jane Cowley MPL: Debate on the State of the Province Address, 28 February 2018

Madam Speaker, Honourable Premier, Honourable members of the House, officials and visitors

I greet you all.

Madam Speaker, we live in dynamic times, and dynamic times require of us to think on our feet, to extend our thinking about problems and solutions for our planet, our continent, our country and our province, in order to bring about quality education, quality jobs and quality living conditions for all South Africans.

So it was with great disappointment that I heard our Honourable premier speak for an hour, in an event that cost our fiscally challenged province vast amounts of money and say…nothing. Madam Speaker, as politicians we are trained to listen very carefully to what our political opponents say. I however, have found it far more useful to listen to what they DO NOT say. This speaks volumes about the real state of our province, particularly in education.

Let us begin with the rationalisation of rural schools. People choose to live in rural villages because these are their cultural homes and they have a strong attachment to their communities. The village school is a place of pride in these communities and is often central to the social events that occur. The village as a whole is invested in the school and while numbers may not be high, there is a stronger sense of discipline and unity in these schools.

Not a word was uttered by the Premier about the instances of rural schools which have been closed, but where alternative arrangements have not been made, either for alternative schools or to provide transport for these learners to attend other schools. The hostels that have long been punted as the solution to the rural problem are yet to be built. As a result, many rural learners have been left completely stranded without hope of furthering their education to become developed and contributory members of society.

Further, no mention was made of the much anticipated and partially implemented Rural Incentive Scheme for teachers, which would go a long way to assisting rural schools in filling their staff establishments and thus not losing learners due to being understaffed.

I would appreciate a better knowledge of the status of this scheme, as I would like to allay the fears of the many rural people who feel that the department is purposely withholding teachers to these rural areas so that learner numbers will drop and they can then rationalise these schools to comply with an agenda that perpetuates the treatment of rural communities as the “forgotten people”.

The Premier did say that to date, 80 595 learners are receiving scholar transport services across the province. But well over one hundred thousand learners, by the province’s own admission, qualified for transport last year. So what happened to the balance of learners who were not catered for? A child’s education should never depend on the luck of the draw, and if the province cannot cater for all qualifying learners, how do they prioritise which learners will get a taxi and which will not?

Madam Speaker, the Premier proudly announced that in the past year, the number of learners benefitting from no-fee schools has increased to 1 441 216. However, this is not an increase from the previous year, but rather a decrease of 157 830 learners, according to the 2017 SOPA.

But Madam Speaker, let us forget about semantics for just a moment and talk instead of the overarching problem facing our learners today  – the fact that most of them cannot read with meaning in Grade Four. This speaks volumes about the poor quality of teaching that takes place in our schools. Until the root causes of bad teaching are addressed, they will continue unabated. And the root causes are there for all to see, but like the elephant in the room, nobody wants to talk about them.

The standard of teacher training in most of our tertiary institutions in this province is shockingly poor. Candidates for teaching degrees are not properly screened, if at all. Teaching has become a fallback career, instead of a calling. Graduates have no deep understanding of pedagogy or of their field of expertise. Practical teaching experience barely exists when it should comprise at least one-third of a teacher’s qualification. Until we take the training of our teachers more seriously at a national level, we are setting our children up for failure every year.

Teachers who consistently underperform should not be protected by a corrupt union, but rather redirected into another career, where they cannot damage the prospects of our children.

Madam Speaker, our provincial fiscus has been reduced, which means that all departments will need to focus on getting more bang for their buck. Last year the auditor general’s report of the infrastructure directorate in the DoE was damning. While some of the original R2,539-billion of irregular expenditure was explained away, not a word was said about the officials within that directorate who were found to be doing business with themselves. I can thus only assume that there have been absolutely no consequences for this unethical and corrupt behaviour, or I am sure that the Honourable Premier would have mentioned such a newsworthy event.

Another very disconcerting fact is that the Department has spent 97% of its budget, but achieved less than half its targets. With all the checks and balances that have been put in place to prevent such underachievement, how is this possible? I suggest humbly that an independent forensic audit may reveal the real facts.

Madam Speaker, the State of the Province Address should be seen as an opportunity to account to the people of this province for all the successes AND the failures of the different departments, and to outline the path ahead that will address shortcomings and focus on new opportunities and initiatives that could bring about the change we so desperately need to address the triple scourges of inequality, poverty and unemployment.

Sadly, this was not a speech to ignite passion, but rather an empty echo of bygone speeches that did very little to inspire. Until education in this province and in this country becomes the focal point of all our efforts, the system will remain broken. And a broken system leaves in its wake broken schools, broken promises, and saddest of all, broken dreams.