Time to take action

Deputy Minister of Education Mosibudi Mangena has a lot on his plate, writes Edwin Naidu

One of the strangest anomalies in South Africa, according to Deputy Minister of Education Mosibudi Mangena, is that tertiary institutions are threatened by closure due to dwindling student numbers while construction of new jails is booming.

“That’s a terrible reality. We should be building new hi-tech campuses instead of multimillion-rand prisons,” he believes.

Speaking to the Teacher last month, Mangena said: “Education is so crucial to the future of our country. If we get it right, we will get so many of the other things right, such as poverty, illiteracy and crime.”

Five months after his appointment, Mangena said he had had a peep into education’s hurdles as a member of parliament’s portfolio committee. “But it’s a different thing working in the ministry because you get to see the amount of work still needed to get education right, especially in maths and science.”

Mangena said he was heartened by the fact that within the Ministry of Education there was a dedicated team determined to get things done. “Despite so many problems, there is a spirit within the department that gives me hope that we can achieve our goals,” he added. Asked his views on the achievements made by the ministry since 1994, he said: “I don’t think enough has happened, although there has been a massive effort. The problem is the education budget, the majority of which goes on salaries, and less towards capital expenses. The money is not available ... if we rely on the yearly budget we will not get to the stage we should.

“Children are still learning in classes under trees or substandard classrooms. Added to that they have no water, electricity or toilets, so it is one big problem in rural areas.”

While his predecessor and now mayor of Tshwane, Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, was essentially charged with driving the culture of learning campaign, Mangena has much more on his plate. He is spearheading the maths, science and technology initiative, leading adult literacy programmes and the, until now, tepid Masifunde Sonke project, as well as exploring ways of making schools more effective and safer.

The problems in education, he said, are no longer about policy - since the department has formulated the majority of policies - but about implementation of those policies, which at the best of times are hampered by a lack of resources.

Another reason for the poor translation of policy into reality, Mangena said, was the fact that the national department merely sets the policies and leaves their implementation to the provincial departments. “There is a lack of capacity in a number of provinces, especially the more rural ones,” he said.

However, he was pleased that the recently announced maths, science and technology initiative had the backing of all provincial education chiefs. “We will have the entire education machinery to back this project. Corporate South Africa will also get behind us and have already indicated the importance of this for the future of our country and our economy,” he said.

Mangena, who holds degrees in mathematics, is passionate about the maths, science and technology initiative. “This project is very important to me. I believe the vast majority of our children can do well in maths, especially if the subject is made to be fun. Poor teaching at primary school level results in a negative attitude towards the subject by the time the learner gets to secondary school.”

Mangena said the success of the initiative depended on more than just finance, as it involved getting South Africans to rally behind the programme in a concerted manner. “It is not just teachers but also parents who can contribute to the initiative’s success, along with the contributions of the private sector.”

- The Teacher/M&G Media, Johannesburg, August 2001.

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