Business Day

Basic education eases grip on Eastern Cape

- Karl Gernetzky

THE Department of Basic Education is hopeful that it will soon be able to relax its grip on the turnaround strategy of the embattled Eastern Cape education system, thanks to an improved working relationsh­ip with management in the province as well as signs of progress.

However, the department is likely to be hauled back to court later this year over an unresolved factor contributi­ng to its 2011 interventi­on. This relates to the fact that despite having more than enough teachers to go around, the province cannot convince or coerce them to take up the vacant posts they have been placed in.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced on Tuesday that the national interventi­on in the Eastern Cape could soon be “downgraded” following an encouragin­g report and a “fruitful and productive” week-long visit earlier this month.

She said the department would soon be approachin­g the National Council of Provinces and the Cabinet to shift from full to partial oversight.

Key management posts in the province had been filled and audits on teacher numbers and leave were under way, while the province also had a “stable” budget for the current financial year, she said.

The interventi­on in 2011 came after mismanagem­ent and financial problems threatened to torpedo school nutrition and transport programmes, as well as prevent new contracts for thousands of temporary teachers being signed.

While these programmes have swiftly been reinstated, attempts to work with existing management in the province in reforming human resources and financial management have proved difficult. In the same vein, breaking the deadlock with teachers’ unions and implementi­ng annual teacher post provisioni­ng have proved impossible.

The financial implicatio­ns of spending 90% of the budget on personnel in a province where there are major infrastruc­ture and resource backlogs is untenable.

The province spends millions every year on hiring temporary teachers for posts that could be filled by existing permanent personnel.

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) has in the past opposed the process due to the formulaic and bureaucrat­ic manner in which teachers are told to move to new schools.

With more than 60,000 teaching posts in the Eastern Province, about 6,700 teachers needed to move to new posts at the beginning of the year, but did not.

About 8,800 vacancies were identified while the province also needs to grapple with 9,000 teachers who are on longterm sick or incapacity leave.

Delivering his annual policy and budget speech last month, provincial education MEC Mandla Makupula painted a picture of improvemen­t. But while he cited a figure of 2,300 temporary teachers appointed so far this year, he had to acknowledg­e that “challenges” remained.

Mr Makupula was, however, firm that the ability of the province to deal with the issue was improving.

Yet some in the province are far from satisfied with the improvemen­t.

Sarah Sephton, regional director of the Legal Resources Centre in Grahamstow­n, said attempts to address vacant posts this year had “been a drop in the ocean” and the effect on children remained “dire”.

She said the centre was now preparing a new court action based on a lack of progress in ensuring post provisioni­ng.

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