South Africa


Hot button concern: Equal Education looks forward to roll out of new mechanism for school infrastructure delivery

Hot button concern: Equal Education looks forward to roll out of new mechanism for school infrastructure delivery
State of the Nation Address (Sona) was delivered by president Cyril Ramaphosa in the Cape Town City Hall. The Sona had to be moved to the Cape Town City Hall after a fire on 2 January 2022 destroyed a large part of the Parliamentary buildings including the National Assembly. (Photo: Jaco Marais/South African Pool)

Crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms and poor educational outcomes are a blight on South Africa’s schooling system. During the State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged that there would be a ‘new innovative mechanism’ to ensure better delivery of school infrastructure. However, he was thin on providing immediate details.

Education NGO, Equal Education said it was glad to hear the president speak about school infrastructure, as it has been campaigning about the issue since 2008.

“But we need more details about this new delivery mechanism,” said Roné McFarlane, head of research and development at Equal Education (EE).

When President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke about school infrastructure at the State of the Nation Address last night, he said: “Government is introducing an innovative social infrastructure delivery mechanism to address issues that afflict the delivery of school infrastructure”.

“The new delivery mechanism will introduce a special purpose vehicle, working with prominent development finance institutions and the private sector, to deliver school education infrastructure,” said Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa said that this delivery mechanism was being piloted in the Eastern Cape and the Northern Cape. However, he gave no further details about the delivery mechanism.

In Ramaphosa’s speech, education – listed as a hot button issue by Daily Maverick readers – got 10 mentions.

“Ramaphosa addressing school infrastructure is a good step because urgent steps need to be taken because there have been cases where the lack of school infrastructure has endangered learners and it also means that learners don’t have a conducive environment for learning,” said McFarlane.

There are countless examples. In 2019 four pupils died when a bridge collapsed on them at Hoërskool Driehoek in Vanderbijlpark, in the Vaal area. At Oakdale Secondary in Ennerdale, four classes didn’t have a roof after it was ripped off by the storm. At Eqinisweni Secondary in Tembisa, in Ekurhuleni, pupils were taught in temporary classrooms built of corrugated iron sheets without windows, doors and chalkboards.

McFarlane said that EE has previously asked the Department of Basic Education for details about this new delivery mechanism, “but the information was vague”.

It is important for more information to be publicly available so that the public can evaluate its efficiency, said McFarlane.

In 2020, a report released by Amnesty International found: “The South African education system, characterised by crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms and relatively poor educational outcomes, is perpetuating inequality and as a result failing too many of its children, with the poor hardest hit”.

“School infrastructure is a manifestation of historic inequality that is deep, enduring and hasn’t yet been properly attended to primarily because of a lack of capacity in the Department of Basic Education,” explained Professor Mary Metcalfe from Wits University.

In the Department of Basic Education’s 2020/21 annual report, the infrastructure unit had vacancies for chief directorates for specialised services and for implementation and monitoring.

Provincial education departments have faced constant backlash for underspending. In 2016, the Eastern Cape Education Department had not spent R431,7-million, which was mainly for infrastructure projects. When the Gauteng Education Department failed to spend R1-billion in 2019, it blamed a range of factors including human capital issues such as resignations and deaths.

Metcalfe said that it was crucial for civil society to hold the president accountable for the promises he made on Thursday night to ensure that school infrastructure is improved. DM


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