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EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
1 November 2000
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION ON INFRASTRUCTURAL BACKLOGS: BRIEFING
Chairperson : Professor S M Mayatula
Documents handed out:
Committee Report on Study Tour to Australia and New Zealand
Committee Report on the Northern Province
The presentation was made by officials of the Department of Education as the Minister had been unable to attend the meeting. The following issues were the focus of discussion:
1) The background and causes of the current situation
2) Strategies developed to deal with the problem
3) Concrete steps taken in the last few months
The main problem was said to have been the poor schooling system inherited from the apartheid regime in 1994.The continued difficulties can, however, be attributed to an inadequate budget and the lack of capacity of the Department to deal with this backlog.
Many committee members indicated that the facts and figures provided during the presentation had been very vague and had not sufficiently explained and addressed the situation which some committee members had witnessed during a tour of the schools in the Northern Province.
Mr Van den Heever (ANC) stated that as the committee members had only received the committee report a few days previously, they needed more time to go through it. He therefore, suggested that it be tabled and considered at a later stage, so that members were able to do justice to it. This proposal was agreed to.
The Chair stated that members had witnessed the extent of the problems experienced in schools on a tour of the schools in the Northern Province (click here for report).
Address by the Department
Background and causes of the infrastructural backlogs
Mr Bobby Soobrayan, the Deputy Director General, described the main cause of the problem as being "poor stock" inherited in 1994. More recently, however, the difficulties experienced by the Department can be attributed to problems experienced with regard to budget, process and allocations. The problem was not a lack in terms of the total budget, but more specifically, that capital expenditure had been diminished in favour of expenditure on personnel. Recently, R1.5 billion had been made available from donor funding under the RDP. However, the problem remains, as the extent of the backlog had required a major initial investment. The Department had to determine whether they could improve on existing policies in order to improve on their capital expenditure budget. It was decided that they would start by targeting the neediest part of the population. In determining the norms and standards that would be used as a point of reference in this process, it could not be too high as there would be the risk that some schools would not be able to reach them. On the other hand, the norms and standards should not be so low that it would have no real effect on other schools.
The second problem is that of planning capacity. Firstly, this is uneven in the different provinces. Secondly, there is no in-house capacity to deal with and facilitate recovery and reconstruction. It will therefore become necessary to deal with the Public Works Department even though they also lack the capacity for dealing with schools in some areas. It therefore becomes important to do a geographic study in order to determine exactly which schools are in disrepair.
The survey done in order to determine backlogs has been limited in that it only refers to existing schools and does not deal with communities needing schools. A few examples of figures mentioned in the survey are:
Nationally, 6500 schools have no running water and 62% of the schools have no telephone. As many schools still do not have toilet facilities either, it is evident that there is a serious health risk posed by this lack of facilities.
After this survey it became evident that the factors influencing the availability of schools were complex. Communities are often dynamic and their size often changes rapidly, due to migration. The Department thus has to look at whether they are putting a permanent school in a dynamic area.
In addition, the survey does not take into account under-utilized schools. The survey shows that in the Northern Cape many schools exist in the wrong places due to apartheid demography.
The concern facing the Department was under-investment, which hampered their ability to address the apartheid backlog. The education budget has since increased and the aim of the Department had been to achieve equity in the teacher- pupil ratio. The situation at present is that the teacher- pupil ratio has been addressed but there are now too few classrooms. The result is that teachers are not being used effectively.
Strategies developed to deal with the problem
This has been a complex task as it is not possible to just go out and build schools. The following strategies have been outlined by the Department as steps to be taken to deal with the problem:
1) Establish capacity for physical planning in the different Departments at both national and provincial levels.
2) Improve capacity for capital investment planning
In this regard the Department has focussed on finding alternative approaches, such as:
(a) with regard to the material used for and the design of schools. In this regard, one can examine the use of the natural materials in certain areas. Thus, a model in the Western Cape would differ from that of the Northern Cape as a result of differing climatic conditions in the two regions.
b) Alternative financing. The speaker compared financing a toll road to financing education. He stated that the idea of a toll road carries with it the assumption of making money and therefore, unlike education, a toll road will attract investors.
The question is how to bring in private funding. The problem is that capital expenditure, unlike spending on personnel, cannot be dealt with in the space of one year, but instead requires at least two to three years.
3) Determine how to integrate the national and provincial plans and budgets.
He stated that this has been done very poorly in the past. In order to develop a capital investment plan, the budget would need to be predictable. The problem is that the budget is, in reality, very unpredictable.
4) The Department is also trying to integrate with other departments.
The establishment of public- private partnerships. Many people have good ideas as to how they can make money and solve the problems in education. However, 99% of these problems prove not to be feasible for the Department. The Department is still hearing proposals in this regard.
Formulating a policy for capital investment.
He stated that it is not possible to have each province operate in its own capacity. The provinces could make contributions but will need an overriding policy.
7) Working with other departments and making presentations to Cabinet.
A presentation was made to Cabinet where the President stated that the Department had to come up with concrete strategies and present these to Cabinet. These strategies were then presented to Cabinet and accepted. With regard to working with other departments, he stated that enthusiasm from other departments has been very strong.
Concrete steps taken in recent months
Mr Charles Shepherd, Director of Physical Planning, stated that R200 million was needed to repair flood damage to schools in the Northern Province and Mpumalanga. The Department has been allocated R9 million in this regard and has already spent R6 million. The remaining R3 million will be spent before the end of the year. The Department is requesting additional funds from the government.
He then went on to outline the overseas funding that the Department has obtained thus far. Among these are R89 million from Japan and R35 million from USA.
In addition the European Union will also provide solar systems to 1500 schools and this is worth R82.5 million.
Although there has been much assistance from donors, the Department has applied for additional grants, which will be made to the provinces. They have also submitted a proposal for the establishment of 59 Learning and Training Centres, an idea based on an international model.
In addition, CSIR has been very eager to assist the Department.
Other initiatives include the establishment of a Task Team to deal with sanitation in schools. He also stated that it costs R150 million per annum to electrify schools. It costs R64000 to electrify one school.
With regard to capital investment grants, the investment record has not been optimal. As a result the grant will be going directly to the provinces next year. The following year R1.2 billion will be allocated for this purpose with broad guidelines as to how funds should be used.
An ANC member asked what impact the Department sees this information having on what they had witnessed on the videotape depicting conditions of schools in the Northern Province on 26 September. He also asked what the impact of vandalism has on the Department and how the Department deals with it. He also wished to know whether, in this regard, there are any strategies in place to involve the community more (as could also possibly serve as a deterrent to vandalism). His final question was when the time frame was for the changes to be completed.
Mr Soobrayan answered that they were looking at 2008 to eliminate the bulk of the backlog. This would be done as the budget is increasing progressively and so is the capacity to construct schools. With regard to vandalism, he acknowledged that this was a major problem and that community involvement was crucial in this regard. This has already been implemented in many provinces, especially in Gauteng where it was done really well. Other measures to prevent theft were introduced, for example, using a type of fence that could be identified easily as belonging to a school. It is also important to make school the centre of community life but this will require involvement of district officials, which is at this stage, is limited.
A committee member asked what the government's policy was with regard to farm schools and schools situated on private property?
Mr Soobrayan responded that the MEC would have to conclude agreements with all the private parties involved. This would be difficult to implement unless work is done with agricultural unions instead of with individuals. With regard to building more schools on farms, one would have to consider the uncertain demography of farm areas. Generally the information surrounding farm schools is not very good.
A committee member requested clarity on the issue as to under-utilized schools and also regarding the issue as to what is being done by the task team dealing with sanitation.
The response was that in determining what to do regarding these under-utilized schools, one cannot simply close the school because of the fact that it is not viable to keep such schools open. This is because one has to take into account the pupils' right to reasonable access to education. In response to the question regarding sanitation, it was stated that the Department has appointed a consultant to look at the Task Team by determining questions such as to whom they report and how to solve the problem as to funding.
A committee member argued that effective teaching can still take place even where infrastructure is not 100%. He wanted to know what they were doing with the infrastructure they do have at their disposal. This question was however not dealt with by the Department.
A committee member wanted to know why it was impossible for norms and standards to be set which could apply to government at national and provincial levels. Can the information given by Mr Shepherd be made available to members?
The response was that if one applies the question of norms and standards to the issue of quality, one can look at the reason school structures are so poor in certain areas. It will then become evident that the poor quality of schools in certain areas is due to the fact that the communities build the structures themselves. One has to avoid the situation where one has to prevent the community from becoming involved, but at the same time balance this against the safety of the learners.
An ANC member expressed his concern that when the Eastern Cape experienced floods, the government had to rely on donor funds to deal with the issue. On the other hand, when the Western Cape experienced a tornado, funds were made available immediately by the government.
In response, Mr Shepherd stated that the government had relied partly on funds from the European Union to deal with the damage caused by the tornado. With regard to the Eastern Cape, R29.1 million was made available to this province for repairs to flood-damaged schools. In the end, he argued, it is the province itself that decides which school gets the funds. Furthermore, the province had been allocated an additional R2 million, but this did not reach schools as the province had overspent on its road works budget. The government has subsequently made a second allocation to the province, which they have to allocate to education.
Members complained that the presentation did not deal with the issues that they had witnessed on the videotape of the Committee's inspection of the Northern Province schools (See Committee Report on the Northern Province schools). Professor Mayatula proposed that the matter be tabled until the MECs, the Minister and the Department could again be present at the Committee meeting.
The speaker responded with regard to the generality of the presentation that it was the best they could do in the available time. He also stated that they do have more information available dealing with the specifics. A committee member commended them on a good presentation but agreed that they had to zoom in on more specific data.
The committee member's proposal was seconded.
At this point the meeting adjourned.
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