Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has made new promises for the coming year during her budget presentation in Parliament.
The budget for basic education national department for the 2013/14 financial year is R17 592-billion, up by R1 248-billion from the R16 344-billion in the last financial year.
"This confirms government's commitment to education," said Motshekga.
Provincial education departments will get R173 454-billion and this will go up to R199 624-billion in 2015/16.
While Motshekga claimed there was good progress in respect of delivery in the current electoral mandate, she admitted that the low levels of reading and writing in the foundation phase and poor schools infrastructure were worrying.
"School infrastructure is an area of great concern which we have also paid serious attention to as a sector," she said.
Improved expenditure on infrastructure budgets, and the number of completed projects in the last financial year, are indicators of progress with more schools receiving water, sanitation and electrification.
She said they are finalising a comprehensive infrastructure investment plan and are also working on partnerships with the departments of labour and correctional services for the supply of school furniture.
"We want you to see synergy in infrastructure planning between national and provincial education departments. The benefit would be schools that are in areas where people live, sans dangerous bridges."
Motshekga said they have developed plans to close "once and for all" the chapter on "potholes" and "hanging ceilings" in classrooms.
She said they are planning to replace 200 inappropriate schools, 132 of them in the Eastern Cape, 30 in the Free State, three in KwaZulu-Natal, three in Limpopo, five in Mpumalanga, one in the Northern Cape, one in North West and 25 in the Western Cape.
These school projects are multi-year and the department was striving for 25% completion by end of 2013/14.
The government will also provide sanitation to 873 schools, water to 448 and electricity to 369 schools.
But there are challenges affecting the Accelerated Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) target achievement, including the liquidation of some contractors and poor performance by others.
The infrastructure allocation for the 2013/14, to be transferred to provincial education departments through the education infrastructure frant, is R6 630-billion. Over the medium term expenditure framework period, it will increase to well over R10-billion, she said.
Motshekga said the preliminary expenditure for 2012/13 for the education infrastructure grant is at 96%.
Reading and writing
Motshekga also admitted that she was worried about the low levels of reading and writing in the foundation phase.
This emerged in an audit of the provincial reading programme that the department had commissioned in February 2013. "The audit report proposed the kind of support we must give to teachers and learners," she said.
Motshekga said they were attending to learner performance, while addressing the systemic issues that are making it difficult for them to crack the system. An amount of R25-million has been allocated in 2013/14 for the national initiative to improve learning outcomes, which will increase to R40-million in 2015/16.
"We know the challenges. We are therefore better placed to improve quality and efficiency while consolidating gains in access and equity."
While access to textbooks and workbooks had improved this year, Motshekga admitted that it was still unacceptable.
She said her department was working with the State Information Technology Agency and the national treasury to finalise implementation systems and processes, including modalities of using a centralised procurement mechanism for the "thorny matter" of teacher laptops. "This has been an extremely frustrating matter but we are doing all we can to bring it to finality," added Motshekga.
Citing her department's achievements, she boasted mainly about improvements in access and in matric results.
She revealed that school participation is nearly 100% for the basic compulsory band, the seven to 15-year age-range. Reports were also showing that there were fewer out-of-school children and those who have dropped out, she said.
Over eight-million children, in more than 82% of public schools, were receiving free education in non-fee paying schools, and the conditional grant for the national school nutrition programme increased by R2 666-million in 2013/14, to R5 173-billion. It will reach R5 704-billion in 2015/16, said Motshekga.
Low learner performance
The minister said results of the annual national assessments that are used to monitor levels and quality of learning outcomes showed that while learner performance in literacy varied from "satisfactory" to "good", the same could not be said about performance in numeracy, particularly in grade nine.
"The particularly low learner performance in mathematics at the intermediate and senior phases justifies the steps we have already taken to focus on teacher professional development and provision of learning and teaching support materials at the higher school grade."
An allocation of R75-million to strengthen the existing programme has been secured for 2013/14 and will reach R160-million in 2014/15 and R167-million in 2015/16, she said.
Motshekga said the department is yet to conclude a collective agreement with teacher unions at the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) on a new integrated assessment instrument intended to improve performance of principals, deputy principals and teachers.
Reasons for the delay include unions' request for more time to consult with members. "We hope to implement the new system before end of 2013, as scheduled."
She said, with support from Unesco, the department has commissioned a project to develop an instrument for evaluating the implementation of the post provisioning norms.
"As a department, we have a responsibility to monitor compliance regarding teacher attendance, punctuality as well as proper use of resources of the school."
Opposition parties poked holes in the minister's speech.
Democratic Alliance spokesperson for basic education Annette Lovemore advised the minister to "admit failure".
"Before we consider your plan for this year, let us pause for a moment, and reflect on the current situation which can best be described as tragic," said Lovemore.
- Only half of grade three learners are literate;
- 13% of grade nine learners achieve a 50% pass mark in mathematics;
- The World Economic Forum ranks our maths and science education second last in the world;
- The International Mathematics and Science Study of 2012 ranks South Africa third last for mathematics;
- The international reading and literacy study of 2012 placed South Africa fourth last;
- 20% of our schools have no or unreliable access to water;
- 79% of our schools have no library;
- 80% of teachers of the deaf are not fluent in sign language;
- 80% of teachers of the blind are unable to read braille;
- We have one of the world's highest teacher absenteeism rate;
- 60% of grade six teachers cannot pass tests their learners are expected to pass;
- Half of the children who start school never finish;
- Only 35% of children who start school ever receive a grade 12 certificate;
- More than 10 000 unqualified teachers are employed in our schools.
She said the achievement so often proudly touted – access to schooling for all our children – pales somewhat in significance when the" immense failure" in ensuring access to quality education in our public schools is considered.
Congress of the People's Willy Madisha said his party was convinced that the ANC government has and continues to fail to ensure that millions of South Africans get access to basic education, despite the directive given to the minister through section 5A of the Schools Act.
"In 2007 the Education Laws Amendment Act 31 was passed to ensure that norms and standards for school infrastructure get implemented. Those norms and standards would address inter alia, the building and or improvement of classes. That was never implemented," he said.
Madisha said the government also failed to implement a draft set of national uniform minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure published in 2008.
He also decried the poor school infrastructure, non-delivery of textbooks, dilapidated classrooms and corruption in the education department.