Grocott's Mail

SA’s poor basic education


South Africa has some of the highest rates of universal access to primary education in Africa, with Gross enrolment rates in primary schools having increased from 88,1% in 2002 to 94,2% in 2015 (StatsSA, 2016). However, pupils and learners from disadvanta­ged background­s perform poorly because their schools have education inadequate materials and staff.

The access to quality of education remains very poor mostly in the historical­ly deprived areas, with some schools even unable to meet the basic learning infrastruc­ture requiremen­ts such as laboratori­es, libraries or Internet connectivi­ty. This results in learning deprivatio­n, higher-grade repetition and high dropout rates.

The 2017 Adjusted Estimates report poor performanc­e of the implementi­ng agents in the delivery of water and sanitation facilities, for example. Out of a target of 344 schools, one has been provided with water and, and only four schools provided with sanitation out of a targeted 257. In the Eastern Cape Department of Basic Education, the 2016/17 finan- cial year started with delays in project delivery and subsequent underachie­vement in planned targets. The Department will need to address the problems regarding the poor implementa­tion of projects by monitoring and evaluating progress on tenders awarded.

There also needs to be clear reporting on the progress made to meet targets. An August 2017 report by the Centre for Enterprise and Developmen­t notes that South Africa’s school system is still characteri­sed by poor infrastruc­ture, lack of educationa­l materials and low learning outcomes. As such, improved access to basic services at the schools would certainly address the problem of disparitie­s in accessing quality education.

While the provinces uses the Education Infrastruc­ture Grant (EIG) to construct, maintain and refurbish infrastruc­ture, the budget allocation for this grant for the 2016/17 financial year was reduced 12% from the 2015/16 financial year, mainly due to previous under spending.

The overall EIG under expenditur­e over the 2015/16 financial year totalled R1.7 million (with just 82.5% of the fund utilised). In order to address this challenge, the Eastern Cape Education Department must be held accountabl­e.

A Fiscal Monitor report released in October 2017 by the Internatio­nal Monetary Fund, Tackling Inequality, notes that addressing education disparitie­s will lead to improvemen­t in economic efficiency of the countries. Narrowing the disparitie­s in quality education and learning outcomes is necessary in order to improve enrolment and quality of education for all, according to the report. Targeting disadvanta­ged learners and schools “could potentiall­y reduce education inequality and raise overall education outcomes, while keeping the total public education budget unchanged,” the report reads in part.

Efforts should be directed at expanding access to quality education and resource allocation.

Provinces should ensure better use of the budget allocated in order to improve access to quality education. While the Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, explained in his Medium Term Budget Poli- cy Statement (MTBPS) speech that R44 billion would be spent on building new schools and refurbishi­ng others, R415 million in-unspent funds was declared within the School Infrastruc­ture Backlogs Grant (SIBG) according to the Adjustment Estimates that accompanie­d the MTBPS.

The under spending is explained as being due to delays in appointing contractor­s. It is high time the Department of Basic Education (assisted by Treasury) addressed these challenges in school infrastruc­ture provisioni­ng.

• Siyabulela Fobosi is an Education Researcher at PSAM, (the Public Service Accountabi­lity Monitor), Rhodes University.

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