More to do, but we are on course
The road to Ngcolokeni, off the busy N2 highway near the town of Qumbu in the rural hinterlands of the Eastern Cape, is a narrow gravel path that meanders into a valley and up a steep hill. Fur-rich sheep fatten themselves on the lush spring greens that grow on the side of the gravel pathway, oblivious of passing motorists and pedestrians.
In a typical Eastern Cape village setting, colourfully painted rondavels covered by silver sheet roofs decorate the hilly landscape. Up ahead in the distance, an imposing face-brick structure sticks out from these tranquil rural surroundings. It is the newly refurbished Ngcolokeni Lower Primary School.
Principal Chuma Dawedi told department officials how, when he arrived at the school 10 years ago, it was a crumbling mud structure that was simply not suitable for teaching and learning. There were three classrooms that catered for Grade 1 up to Grade 6. So overcrowded was the school that learners in Grade 1 and Grade 2 shared a classroom. Grade 3 learners could not be accommodated in the school building but, thanks to a local good Samaritan who offered part of his house as a makeshift classroom, lessons were able to continue. There were no toilets; pupils and teachers were forced to relieve themselves in the bushes, stripping them of their dignity.
Today, that unsuitable mud structure has been replaced by a state-of-the-art school that is the pride and joy of the community of Ngcolokeni. We handed over the new school in August last year. It had been entirely rebuilt as part of our Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative driven by myself. Through this initiative we have identified 510 schools – the bulk of them in the Eastern Cape – that have been built entirely out of inappropriate materials, with the end goal of replacing them with newly built facilities.
Since the programme’s inception, the initiative has led to the completion of just over 170 schools out of all those targeted around the country. The schools are mainly constructed in rural and underprivileged areas. They come standard with science and computer laboratories, a media centre, rainwater harvesting tanks, a nutrition centre, and a fully functional administration block with offices for the principal and heads of department and a staff room. Electricity is also provided, although this is dependent on the availability of electrical infrastructure.
In November 2013, we published regulations relating to minimum uniform norms and standards for public schools’ infrastructure. This was the first time that government had set itself targets of this nature in terms of the provision of school infrastructure. We set ourselves ambitious targets. We vowed to provide clean, running water and electricity to all schools. We said we would eradicate all inappropriate structures such as mud, asbestos and “plankie” schools and make sure all schools had decent sanitation.
While we have made relatively good progress in the provision of basic services (water, sanitation, power supply), we had set ourselves the following targets:
2014/15: 98%; 2015/16: 99%; 2016/17: 100%. Have we achieved these targets? Let us take a closer look at how we have fared thus far, starting with sanitation. This is extremely important – how can anyone expect a child to be in school all day and not be able to go to the toilet?
Since October 2014, about 474 schools without some form of sanitation were identified. By the end of September this year, some 408 schools were provided with sanitation. The Eastern Cape has the highest number of schools still without proper sanitation (61), followed by the Free State with five schools. These two provinces will not achieve set targets to provide all schools with some form of sanitation.
As with sanitation, we had promised that no school would be without some form of water supply by November this year. Of the 604 schools that had water challenges that we identified in October 2014, 523 had been provided with some form of water supply by September this year. This means 81 schools are still outstanding, with 58 of them in the Eastern Cape and 23 in the Free State.
Electricity is a different challenge. Just like the provision of water, it requires infrastructure that lies outside of what we can provide as the department of basic education. In this regard, we rely heavily on and work closely with Eskom and the respective municipalities. In October 2014, we identified 1 131 schools without some form of power supply. By September this year, 560 of those schools had been provided with power. KwaZulu-Natal (343) and the Eastern Cape (187) have the highest number of schools that are still without some form of electrification.
While the learners and teachers at Ngcolokeni are enjoying their beautiful infrastructure, elsewhere in the province, and indeed in the country, others do not have basic amenities. It is unacceptable that they find themselves in these unfavourable conditions. I want to assure these learners and teachers that the wait won’t be too long. We have beefed up capacity in the department of basic education and the provinces to accelerate the pace of delivery.
However, even against these impediments, we are making progress. Last week we handed over yet another school in Mbhashe where the circumstances of learners at Bungu Primary School have changed for the better. Motshekga is the minster of basic education
Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi visits a newly built school in Mndeni, Soweto