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Education MEC promises to take Gauteng classrooms into the future

Gauteng education MEC Panyaza Lesufi says chalkboards in matric classrooms are going to be removed and replaced with smart boards by July.

Equal Education says he made the bold promise at the nongovernmental organisation’s summit on Saturday about the sanitation “crisis” in Gauteng schools.

Lesufi allegedly told the gathering that he would replace every chalkboard in every matric classroom in the province’s nearly 3 000 schools with an interactive, touch-detecting, whiteboard. The technology costs between R20 000 and R200 000 per board.

After hearing the results of Equal Education’s audit of sanitation at 200 schools in 20 towns and townships in the province, he also made other, very bold promises.

“The 50 worst schools in Gauteng will be demolished and rebuilt during the June holidays, every matric classroom in a township in Gauteng will get new ceilings, floors and toilets by July … 21 000 dignity packs will be distributed to female learners monthly from July …” Lesufi said, according to the NGO’s Saturday press release.

The promises are a continuation of his R17-billion plan to make all classrooms paperless in the next five years and give all pupils a tablet computer.

He has already distributed 88 000 tablets to a portion of the approximately two-million pupils. But this is the first time the MEC has gone public on a deadline for smart boards to replace all blackboards.

Broken promises
But will he be able to meet his ambitious deadline for the installation of the expensive technology “by July”?

He has made big promises before but later broken them.

After taking office in June last year he broke his promise to fix all sanitation problems in Gauteng schools by August. When he missed his deadline Equal Education and 2 000 of its members marched to his office where he committed to spending R150-million on fixing toilets at 580 schools by the end of November.

The NGO then conducted its own audit of 200 schools and released its results on Saturday which showed, according to co-head of Equal Education in the province Adam Bradlow, “that while the monies did help, serious challenges remain”.

The audit states that in 30% of the schools audited, over 100 pupils were sharing a single working toilet; one in five toilets were either broken or locked; over 25% of schools have more than 400 students for one maintenance staff member; 70% of schools have no access to soap and 40% have no access to toilet paper or sanitary pads.

The NGO demanded on Saturday that Lesufi establish a Gauteng appropriate ratio for toilets to pupils; improve the ratio of maintenance staff per pupil and publicly begin blacklisting contractors who under perform, among other demands. It wants this done by 16 June. Lesufi agreed “unconditionally” to all the demands, the NGO said in its statement. 

Bradlow told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday that it is “good that MEC Lesufi has accepted our demands because that is the only way to fulfil his promise of fixing the sanitation crisis”. On Lesufi’s subsequent promises, the NGO said in its statement that it will “fully hold the MEC to the promises he made to hundreds of people today”. “We want the MEC to also meet the deadlines he has set for himself. We think it is commendable that the MEC has always honoured all of our invites and addressed learners when called on to do so.”

Pricey boards
Bradlow told the M&G that Lesufi had committed to sending the NGO a list of the schools that will be targeted in the fulfilment of his promises. The Gauteng education department had not responded to the M&G’s questions at the time of publishing. 

“It is vital that all pupils — regardless of race and wealth — have access to technology so that they are prepared for their future. We are studying the efficacy of the current roll out of paperless technology in classrooms.”

The principal of Sunward Park High School, Ansie Peens, believes Lesufi will stay true to his word. This year the school became the first public school in the province to become “totally about e-learning”, she said.

It has been widely showcased by the Gauteng education department as a success story in paperless learning.

She said depending on the level of sophistication of the smart boards they cost between R20 000 and R200 000.

“I think it’s a wonderful promise. He’s a man that delivers. He’s got massive teams working for him.”

She said the companies that install the smart boards, which are “very, very easy to use”, give training to users.

The head of educational information technology in the school of education at the University of Witwatersrand, Reuben Dlamini, told the M&G that a promise like this was “long overdue”.

“The problem isn’t the promise, it’s the implementation. There is no question about the benefits of information and communication technology (ICT) in classrooms … it is just as important as sanitation. But there needs to be balance: as we implement these plans and spend so much money, we need to make sure that teachers are skilled enough to use ICT.”

A previous version of this article stated that Equal Education said the MEC promised to replace every chalkboard in the province with a smartboard. The NGO has since corrected its mistake, saying the MEC actually said he would replace chalkboards in every matric classroom in the province.

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Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.

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