/ 21 April 2005

United we grow stronger

Education is widely acknowledged as a key element in alleviating poverty. It is also important, especially in developing countries, to advance the democratic transformation of society. As Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni put it, ‘It [education] expands abilities and opportunities. It is a great freedom in itself, and opens the doors to other freedoms.”

The State’s recognition of education’s value translates into it being allocated the biggest share of the budget – this year a 23, 2% cut. But the increase in State education capital budgets – from less than R1-billion in 1998/9 to R2.5-billion in 2003/4 financial years – is still not sufficient to meet all of education’s needs.

Molatwane Likhethe, a representative of the Department of Education (DoE), says the DoE recognises the importance of corporate and international partnerships in transforming the sector. ‘There is no way we could have come this far without assistance,” he says. In 1999 Minister of Education Kader Asmal announced what he called ‘a national mobilisation for education and training” under the name Tirisano a Setswana word for working together, calling for everyone’s involvement in the

betterment of education.

In recent years South Africa has seen major increases in spending on Corporate Social Investment (CSI). Companies have realised that CSI both enhances their image and contributes to meaningful social change, and are actively seeking recognition for their contributions.

Currently, 36% of the total CSI budget is allocated to education, while training receives 9%. This translates into R792-million spent by corporates on education projects in the 2002 financial year, up by R17-million on spending in the previous year.

Such investment makes all the difference in meeting the demands for quality education. Between 1996 and 2000, for example, joint initiatives between the DoE and donors -both foreign governments and corporate companies – saw the number of unqualified educators reduced by 22%.

South Africans are not alone in their commitment to a better education for all; foreign countries have made their mark in this regard as well. The Japanese government is one of the many foreign donors that are investing millions of rands to improve our education. Besides donating about 10 000 bicycles to rural schools in the last seven years, they have also provided a R200-million grant for the construction of schools in four rural provinces: KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga. About 47 schools in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape have been completed and furnished by this investment.

‘Our [Japan’s] experience after World War II has taught us the importance of education for a country’s development. That is why the Japanese government prioritises education,” says Tatsuro Ono, a representative of the Japanese Embassy.

Earlier this month, Minister of Education Kader Asmal and the French Ambassador Jean Cadet signed an agreement in which the French Government will provide financial support amounting to Euros 760 000 (approximately R6,6-million) to support the implementation of a Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) project entitled ‘Support for the setting up of Education Action Zones (EAZs) in the Gauteng Province’.

The three-year project aims to set up nine EAZs modelled on the French practice. The GDE will be drawing on French expertise in this capacity-building programme, which concentrates on developing the administration and management skills of education officials, particularly school principals. Part of the training involves a trip to France to attend a one-month internship programme.

Other countries actively supporting South African education include the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Norway.

The United States also makes significant contributions.

The tangible benefits of these investments are felt by thousands of learners and educators. Asmal recently acknowledged the substantial improvement that has been made in infrastructure development over the past few years – thanks to a combination of public funding, corporate and donor support. Besides providing amenities such as toilets and the ongoing electrification of schools, a total of 3 750 classrooms were built in the 2002/03 financial year and 4 330 classrooms will be built this year.

A further 4 748 classerooms are due to be completed next year.