SA must bail out education 'World Cup-style'

KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial education minister, Senzo Mchunu, has called on the national government to commit a once-off lump sum towards education in South Africa—much like it did for World Cup investment.

Such funding should be allocated to provincial administrations to reverse some of the pressing backlogs, a clearing of accounts he said was currently a far-fetched dream with their budgets. Mchunu said provinces are not able to adequately address problems that schools are facing because of financial limits.

To applause from delegates at the South African Basic Education Conference, Mchunu said the national government should commit to solving the education crisis with the same vigour as it had mustered wen it the 2010 World Cup spectacular.

Mchunu was the closing speaker in the three-day conference that was attended by 600 academics, NGOs, teachers, principals and provincial government officials in Durban.

“Education is an apex priority; we need this to be accompanied by a strong will. A strong will, from where I stand, is a once-off funding—which will be over and above the normal annual budget,” Mchunu said.

“We can do it. It just requires all of us to be patriotic, honest and to engage openly and frankly, in order to make a real difference in our community and for our children.”

More than a third of provincial education budget goes to teachers’ and officials’ salaries, Mchunu said. Over 75% of KwaZulu-Natal’s more than R34-billion budget will go to salaries this year.

This means they only have the remainder of that money to allocate to addressing backlogs, especially in infrastructure and teacher training. Mchunu said this weaken their efforts to improve education in the province.

“More money is required to ensure that we deliver the kind of education that is ideal to deliver quality education,” Mchunu said, “we appreciate the fact that education has been prioritised but words alone minus enough funding cannot deliver—”

Backlogs in KwaZulu-Natal are characterised by poor school infrastructure and teachers poor subject knowledge. A number of schools require refurbishment, while most farm schools need to be built from scratch.

The number of teachers in the province is also going down. While it loses over 4 000 teachers a year, it only recruits just about 1 800.

“If you compare what we recruit and what we lose there’s a huge gap,” Mchunu said.

This has resulted in an undersupply of teachers in the province, especially in rural schools, said Mchunu.

Furthermore, as “management we’re not yet assuring that each child has a book for each subject”, said Mchunu.

The province has partnered with universities to provide training for teachers. Mchunu said “we need not wait for national” to undertake initiatives meant to improve teachers.

“High performing schools [are] characterised by [a] highly motivated teaching corps, well-resourced classrooms and solid infrastructure,” said Mchunu.

The message of private-public partnerships resonated throughout the conference, with various speakers maintaining that the government cannot sort out the education crisis alone, and so one of its declarations is that organisations need to “work together in partnership with government to open the doors of quality learning for all”.

Bongani Nkosi

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