Eastern Cape school chaos continues

This emerges from the Public Service Accountability Monitor's recently published analysis of the Eastern Cape education department's 2013-2014 budget, R1.3-billion of which is allocated to infrastructure.

"It is the management of allocated funds that is an ever-present problem," says the report of the monitor, a research and advocacy unit at Rhodes University.

"In compiling this budget analysis, a concerted search for concrete and up-to-date financial reports" on projects aimed at eradicating inappropriate school infrastructures "yielded little by way of quantitative, coherent information", the report says.

The unhappy history of mud schools provides a graphic example of this overall picture.

"In 2004, [then president] Thabo Mbeki announced that by the end of this year [2004-2005] we shall ensure that there is no pupil learning under a tree, mud school or any dangerous conditions that expose pupils and teachers to the elements."

But the report gives a timeline indicating both broken promises and incoherent official data. It says:

  • "Recent figures indicate that [both the national and Eastern Cape education departments] are working from a baseline of 141 mud schools in the Eastern Cape. However, a presentation made to the treasury during the 2008-2009 financial year by the [then] national department indicated that there were 142 mud schools in total in the Eastern Cape. This would imply that only one mud school has been eradicated since 2008-2009."
  • "In October 2012 [the national department] reported [to Parliament] that of 50 schools initially promised for delivery … only four had been completed by the end of the 2011-2012 financial year; [that is] only 8% of the target was met."
  • "In February 2013, Deputy Minister Enver Surty promised that 35 … schools would be completed by the end of the 2012-2013 financial year. [But] in a recent address to education stakeholders in Libode, Minister [Angie] Motshekga stated that the department had intended to deliver 49 schools by the end of March but that only 17 had actually been completed. This accounts for 35% of the overall targets since 2011-2012."

This history underpins the monitor's conclusion that the department's target of replacing 442 "inappropriate school structures" in the province, 141 of which seem to be made entirely of mud, "appears overly ambitious".

Equally, the province's chronic underspending on infrastructure hinders any improvement of learning conditions, the report says. In 2012-2013, it underspent its R95-million budget for maintenance and repairs by R23.2-million.

Because the Eastern Cape education department remains under section 100 intervention, national department spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi responded to the Mail & Guardian's questions.

He conceded that none of more than 40 schools in the province identified in 2008 for eradication and replacement with entirely new structures by the end of 2009-2010 were completed.

But backlogs in infrastructure had been addressed since then by introducing the accelerated school infrastructure development initiative (Asidi) in 2011-2012, he said.

"Asidi targets are realistic," Lesufi said. "The department reiterates [Motshekga's] comments during her budget vote speech [concerning] the replacement of all mud schools by the end of the 2015 financial year."

Of 49 schools earmarked for complete replacement, he said, only 22 had been completed.

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Bongani Nkosi
Bongani is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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