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EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
15 February 2005
EDUCATION INFRASTRUCTURE PROGRAMME OF ACTION: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING
Chairperson: Mr S Mayatula
Documents handed out:
Education Infrastructure: Department Programme of Action – PowerPoint presentation
The Minister of Education, Ms N Pandor, attended the first 15 minutes of the meeting. She indicated that she would explore the idea of creating boarding facilities instead of building more classrooms. The Department of Education’s Mr F Patel summarised the challenges in eradicating the backlog of school buildings including unreliable data, inequalities between provinces, lack of maintenance programmes, poor workmanship and materials and cumbersome bureaucratic processes. To address these challenges, the Department would immediately begin to improve its evaluation and monitoring unit and provide regular reports, provide training for its officials, develop norms and standards, and strengthen fiscal and government mechanisms in the system. Members of the Committee shared the Department’s concerns, advocated more community involvement in erecting and maintaining school buildings, more control over the budget for provincial education departments, adapting unused existing buildings to b used as schools and welcomed the proposed strengthening of the monitoring and evaluation unit.
Minister Pandor said that finding or building boarding facilities for schools might address the classroom shortage. Building additional classrooms might not be the most appropriate solution in a country where the population was dynamic and the composition of communities was also changing. Along with MECs, this Committee and the Provincial Education Departments, she accepted responsibility for the lack of delivery in school infrastructure. She asked all of these role-players to continue their efforts. The Chairperson accepted her challenge, saying that the Committee had dealt with policy and legislation at the expense of implementation. The Committee should collate its reports on visits to schools and make them available to the Department. The President should not be able to say that the objective of having no learners without proper classroom facilities had not been met in 12 months’ time. They should be open and transparent about any shortcomings.
Mr F Patel of the Department said that the backlog had been reduced from a shortage of 57 000 in 1996 to 31 254 in 2004. As not all provinces had similar backlogs, the way the equitable share formula was allocated to provinces should be scrutinised, especially in the rural areas. Migration between and within provinces was also an issue. The rapid degradation of classrooms threatened to ensure that the backlog was never erased. In some cases, buildings were unusable six months after construction. Schools in some provinces lacked water and sanitation. The Department was concerned with lack of maintenance plans and personnel capacity to plan and evaluate the maintenance of buildings. Information was often unreliable or unavailable. Procurement modalities were cumbersome and the procurement system often did not deliver value for money. Interdepartmental co-operation was lacking and provinces sometimes diverted funding to other areas.
As part of its turn-around strategy, the Department would set up a monitoring unit to register all incidents on a school-by-school basis, capacitate national and provincial departments and revise the procurement process. In the latter instance, the Department would welcome the assistance of the Committee and Members of the Provincial Legislature (MPL) in holding provincial authorities accountable. Mr Patel presented a table comparing the performance of the public and private sectors in developing infrastructure. The private sector’s performance was far superior, most notably in the duration of its buildings (20 years compared to the Department’s three months to five years). Other components of the turn-around strategy included strengthening fiscal governance mechanisms and systems for monitoring and evaluation and developing norms and standards. Provincial Education Department officials would also be given opportunities to increase their skills in asset review and community based practices.
Committee Members from all parties gave examples of inadequate planning and infrastructure in their constituencies. Ms P Mashangoane (ANC) said that capacity building should go down to community level and that vandalism was a symptom of non-community ownership. Ms P Mnandi said that existing unused buildings could be turned into schools, for example the Indumiso College of Education. She also advocated the use of community development workers. Mr L Greyling (ID) said that the worst school buildings were in areas of high unemployment. If the Department could partner the community in building schools, there would be a win-win situation. Mr A Gaum said that there would always be a shortage of funds because social welfare crowded out other budget items and urged the Committee to look at the provincial priority lists. Regarding the co-ordination problems between departments, he argued that Provincial Education Departments should have more financial control over funding if they were to be held accountable for lack of delivery. Mr D Montsitsi (ANC) asked whether fieldworkers could authenticate data for the infrastructure audit and urged the Department to deal with the lack of norms and standards in infrastructure as a matter of urgency. Since the data available to the Department had been found to be unreliable, how, he asked had the President got his data which revealed such a large backlog? The Chairperson asked for the turn-around strategy to be presented as a plan of action with officials responsible and deadlines: when would the monitoring and evaluation unit be set up?
Mr Patel thanked the Committee for their concerns, which the Department shared. He said that the Inter-governmental Framework Bill would facilitate co-operation between Departments. The monitoring and evaluation unit would be set up immediately. The existing Education Management Information System would be enhanced – school visitors would feed information back to it and the Department would in turn feed it back to the MPL, the Portfolio Committee and others to verify the data. He agreed that unless communities took ownership of schools, there would be no success. The 500 community workers in three provinces had a role to play, as did ward committees. Unspent funds indicated inadequate prioritisation and planning; according to the Division of Revenue Bill, the Minister could move unspent funds from province to province.
Most of the questions were not answered comprehensively before the meeting had to end. The Chairperson also needed guidance from the Committee on two matters: a visit to the former University of the Orange Free State to offer support with some problems in the merger process and to motivate for a sum larger than the R23 million budget for the Committee to carry out its work for the next cycle.
The meeting was adjourned.