The man with the plan
He is the MEC for Education in KwaZulu-Natal, a province with 6 028 schools spread over a large, mostly rural, area and a learner population of 2.8-million.
“Our core business as the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education is curriculum delivery in schools,” said Mchunu. “Curriculum delivery takes place in the form of teaching and learning. Our ultimate goal is to equip all our learners with the requisite knowledge, skills, values and attitude to help them achieve their full potential.”
He is a firm believer that education takes place in the classroom and has mandated the officials of his department to make sure that they spend more time in schools than in their offices.
Today (Friday June 1) MEC Mchunu will present a budget of R34.7-billion (which includes R33-billion in Conditional Grants) to his executive committee in Pietermaritzburg. The Education budget was R26.2-billion in 2010 and R32.6-billion in 2011.
When interviewed before the budget speech, Mchunu outlined six major challenges that stood in the way of South Africa and KwaZulu-Natal achieving the goal of high quality education.
“These six challenges are the fundamentals that are delaying our movement towards quality education,” he explained.
Poor curriculum management and delivery were the first challenge he highlighted. He explained that this included both teaching and learning. Both teachers and learners need to be at school on time, all day and teachers need to be resourced and prepared.
“I would like to fix it in the minds of both teachers and learners that the classroom is sacrosanct and that they need to put everything they have into the time they are there,” he said.
Mchunu acknowledged that poor lesson plans, absenteeism, too few books to go around and under-resourced classrooms are part of a problem he is working on fixing with his team.
“The KZN Department of Education believes that in each school, each child must have a book for each subject. We have come a long way with this and we are almost there.”
Poor teacher supply
Capacity, which translates into poor teacher supply, is second on the list. In KZN there are 88 287 educators in the workforce. Of these, 14 809 are unqualified or under-qualified. There is still an acute shortage of teachers for Maths, Science and Technology.
To illustrate this lack of capacity, of the 14 809 above-mentioned teachers, 7 259 have degrees or diplomas and 7 550 only matric.
“In KZN, we lose about 4 500 teachers (6%) every year due to poor health, death, retirement, misconduct or resignations,” Mchunu said. “A total of 1 895 new recruits for 2011 is a far cry from this annual loss.”
To boost the teacher numbers in the province, the Department has embarked on a recruitment campaign targeted at students of the higher education institutions in the province, as well as offering bursaries to 400 BEd students. To enhance the quality of the educators, 600 teachers will be enrolled in Advanced Certified Education (ACE) specialisation programmes which are expected to cost R19.4-million. At the same time 300 principals are going to be upskilled for a further R18-million.
Although he is a positive man and can see how far education in KwaZulu-Natal has come since liberation, Mchunu is not a man who will let an opportunity pass to turn his mind to improving the quality of education, not just the numbers. He said that he would like to see learners and teachers finding joy in the classroom.
Lack of discipline in schools
The lack of discipline in many schools is something that touches him deeply. On a recent surprise visit to schools around the province, the MEC found that at several schools, hundreds of pupils arrived late for classes.
“When a child misses the first 10 minutes of school every day for the five years of high school, by the time they reach matric, they will have missed out on a whole year of schooling. I just don’t think they realise how serious this is,” he said.
The barrenness of classrooms is his next challenge. Although it ties in with poor infrastructure, the MEC understands that a lack of basic classroom equipment is a serious deterrent to the learning process. Classrooms should all be equipped with data projectors, at least one computer, a board, maps, charts and other teaching and learning aids, he said.
“Poor infrastructure and a lack of classroom equipment also slows down progress towards achieving quality education. A school is not just a row of classrooms. It needs to have science labs and computer labs, a proper staff room and proper toilets,” Mchunu said.
“When you walk into a classroom you must feel a little bit excited because of all the information around you. Many of the schools that I have visited have classrooms that are empty and dull. They all look the same - just rooms. They need to be full of resources that will interest and inspire teachers and learners.”
The last three points on his challenge list are key: management, finance and infrastructure. He acknowledged that the current 75% of the budget that is allocated to teacher salaries is too high and is being addressed.
The biggest challenge for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education is infrastructure.
“Infrastructural backlogs remain the Department’s biggest drawback. Of particular concern to us are class sizes. The Department is an active participant in the infrastructure development improvement programme that is funded by National Treasury. By realising public-private partnerships, the KZN Department of Education expects to expedite the delivery of infrastructure.”
Mchunu concedes that the infrastructure budget is not nearly adequate to respond to the current needs of schools within the province. The budget for infrastructure will increase from R2.2-billion in 2011/2012 to R2.4-billion in 2012/2013. This will allow the Department only to address the pressing challenges and the eradication of backlogs.
In spite of these challenges, the budget reveals that the Department has continued with the construction of new schools as guided by University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) research. Nine new schools were constructed in 2010/2011. Indumo Comprehensive High School in the UMkhanyakude District is the first in a pilot roll-out of new schools.
The KZN Department of Education has also made a commitment to ensure that primary schools in theprovince offer the Reception Grade (Grade R) for children aged five years before registering for Grade 1. This is a mandate from the Department of Basic Education and the 2012/2013 budget aims to ensure that there is a progressive increase in the provisioning of quality Grade R centres in KwaZulu-Natal public schools with an allocation of almost R533-million and in community-based sites R116-million. This is a total of R650-million.
A further 20 grade one classes are scheduled to be established in 2012/2013 to take the number of Grade R classes in the province up to 6 110.
The Department intends to build a further 300 new Grade R classrooms and also use Grade R norms and standards to fund all primary schools offering Grade R in 2012/2013. This financial year the number of learners to be enrolled in Grade R schools is 199 060.
There are not many places in the world where an elected politician responsible for education has to worry about feeding pupils, transporting them, housing and recruiting teachers and educating them, rebuilding schools and working in largely rural areas which makes communicating with parents a challenge. Add to this SA’s social issues of HIV/Aids, illiteracy, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancies and the language and cultural mixes in the province, and the challenge could become overwhelming.
Yet Mchunu concluded the interview by explaining that the improvement of human resource practices is the ultimate goal as a department. “We need to all work together and work better and smarter. My department has to put shoulder to the wheel and ensure transparency and accountability and not just good, but exceptional corporate governance,” he said.
“And the teachers and governing bodies and parents and learners all need to work with us, because we liberated this country together. We need to continue with this process and provide our children with an education that they can use to build our country and continent and that can stand proud anywhere in the world.”