More to do, but we are on course

CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Angie Mot­shekga voices@city­

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

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