South Africa


Do your homework before making false claims of a Western Cape education fiasco

Do your homework before making false claims of a Western Cape education fiasco
As the first day of the 2024 school year kicked off on Wednesday, placement was still being sought for 2,636 Grade 1 and 8 learners in the Western Cape. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Jaco Marais) Students in a classroom at Weltevrede Secondary School in Wellington. The Western Cape Education Department still seeking placements for over 2,600 Grade 1 and 8 learners. (Photo: Gallo Images/Die Burger/Jaco Marais)

The Western Cape education minister replies to claims by Dr Seelan Naidoo and Dr Lydia Plaatjies concerning school placement problems in the province.

I was deeply disappointed to read the 11 February 2024 Daily Maverick Opinionista article, “What lurks beneath the school placement fiasco in the Western Cape”, making various false claims about education in the Western Cape. It cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged, and I’ll dive straight in to deal with each false claim in turn.

False claim 1: Online application system is deficient

The online application system has been in place for five years in two provinces, but the authors seem unfamiliar with the process.

What is the purpose of the online application system if it only means applying and then still having to go and take the hard copies to schools and schools reject you?” This quote was allegedly written by a parent, although we cannot verify whether this is in fact the case.

What is undoubtedly false is the claim that parents must take hard copies of their documents to every school they applied to. Parents are only required to take documents to a school once they have been offered and accepted a place in that school. The online application system reduces the burden on parents as they do not need to go individually to each school they apply to.

Tens of thousands of parents applied online without incident, and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) set up dozens of pop-up application points for those who do not have access to the internet. It allows us to more efficiently allocate resources to areas of highest demand, and to weed out illegal practices where schools ask for inappropriate information.

False claim 2: WCED returned R829-million to the national fiscus due to underexpenditure

We are spending 100% of our infrastructure budget, and we are building classrooms at a faster rate than seen before. We now regularly construct schools in about 70 days as part of our Rapid School Build programme, in poorer communities like Belhar, Wallacedene, Lwandle, Kwanokuthula, Blue Downs and Philippi.

In fact, we are so efficient in our infrastructure spending that National Treasury allocated an extra R115-million in other provinces’ unspent education infrastructure grant funding to us last year.

The Western Cape pays for more than half of its education infrastructure programme with its own funds, rather than relying on the national government’s conditional grants.

So great is our demand for placement that our province provides 55% of our infrastructure budget from our equitable share funds, compared with Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal which provide just 8%.

The claim regarding returned funds is simply factually false – we did not return R829-million to National Treasury.

False claim 3: National government cannot be blamed for budget cuts

The authors claim that the collapse of the national budget process is not to blame for the catastrophic cuts to the infrastructure budget and funding for the public wage increase.

The national government has dealt a massive R716.4-million blow to our ability to build and maintain schools, and pay teachers. What made this cut particularly devastating is that, for the first time, these cuts were made within the current financial year, and thus took effect immediately, at exactly the time that demand for placement is highest.

While the authors might not consider this to be a problem, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana recognised the consequences of the budget cuts when, in his Mid-Term Budget Policy Statement, he stated that “this could lead to larger class sizes and higher learner-teacher ratios, possibly resulting in weaker educational outcomes”.

These dire sentiments have been repeated by other provinces, but the Western Cape is actually doing something about it by declaring an intergovernmental dispute to get the money we are owed.

False claim 4: Poorer communities are being underfunded

Norms and standards funding levels are determined nationally, as is the number of schools each province is allowed to have in each quintile – even though this allowance does not reflect the economic reality of our pupils.

In fact, so deficient is the national quintile system that the Western Cape government has had to divert its own funding to allow some of our quintile 4 and 5 schools to become no-fee schools because they serve poorer communities. This cost is borne by our own budget because the national government refuses to fully fund all schools serving poor communities.

No-fee schools in poor communities receive double the norms and standards funding of quintile 4 fee-charging schools, and nearly six times the funding of quintile 5 fee-charging schools.

The Western Cape pays the full allocation of norms and standards funding to schools, unlike provinces like the Eastern Cape where schools have had to take court action to receive their basic funding.

We also top up the funding for the National School Nutrition Programme from our own provincial funds, since the national government does not provide sufficient funding to cover food price inflation.

Furthermore, we target our infrastructure spending to where the demand is highest: Poorer communities that are expanding rapidly as children move to our province.

False claim 5: DA MPLs ‘interceding’ on behalf of parents for political gain

We receive emails from representatives of almost all political parties, including the ANC, and every single one of these is dealt with in exactly the same way as any other application for a school place that we receive. Our department takes the separation between party and state very seriously, and special treatment is simply not an option.

We similarly receive requests from organisations like Equal Education (EE), and they do not receive special treatment either. The authors reference a “study” by EE, although this cannot be found online. Ironically, this is another case of alleged “intercession” on behalf of parents, so it is curious that the authors seem to find no fault with it.

False claim 6: Education outcomes in the Western Cape are declining

This claim is obviously false – simply look at the matric results. The Western Cape matric pass rate has increased every year for the past three matric exams, so it is quite bizarre to claim that they are declining.

Most crucially, our retention rate is also increasing, while in other provinces the number of pupils making it to matric has dropped off a cliff to such an extent that both the national minister and director-general sounded the alarm at the 2023 NSC results function in Gauteng.

In fact, the district with the greatest increase in pass rate in the past three matric exams is none other than Metro East – more than 10 percentage points in three years – with township schools driving this increase. They have also recorded a 6.32 percentage point increase in bachelor’s passes.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Matric class of 2023 beats the odds with record 82.9% pass rate — Angie Motshekga

The matric pass rates are rising rapidly in quintile 1, 2 and 3 (no-fee) schools, so it is once again alarming that the authors are simply unaware of this.

This pattern is replicated in our latest annual systemic test results. We are the only province to conduct these tests, to have an objective, standardised measure of education outcomes across all school phases.

Scores increased this year for each of the three grades tested, for mathematics and language. And again, we saw substantial improvements in quintile 1 to 3 schools, and in Metro East.

As we say in education, a little homework goes a long way.

We encourage the authors to do some. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    It is so refreshing to read clear unambiguous confirmation that at least one province in our broken country takes our children’s education as seriously as we parents do.

    I for one appreciate greatly the efforts put in by all the talented and committed staff of the Western Cape Education department to ensure our children have the best possible chance at a future.

    I further appreciate the extraordinarily difficult challenges you face in doing so under our benighted national government.

    Thank you.

  • Lynne Harrison says:

    Thank you for correcting that information. As a teacher in the western cape I was offended by the uninformed original article. We are also, to the best of my understanding the only province to require our matric markers to pass a competency test before they are deemed competent to mark matric exams. Competent markers may actually be to the detriment of our matric exam results because they mark properly, and will mark a student down because their answer is wrong when other provinces markers may just award marks because they have the correct “key words” without the correct meaning or context.

  • janjanjoubert02 says:

    How embarrassing for Dr Naidoo and Dr Plaatjies – on those inconvenient little truths known as facts. As the most loyal DM aubscriber imaginable – would a little fact checking by DM before publication not be advisable? Surely one cannot feel good about publishing a checkable and damaging mistake/claim/lie like the R829 million one? Just asking to the DM powers that be?

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    Thank you for the clarification. After spewing such lies and misinformation, I wonder if the authors of “What lurks beneath the school placement fiasco in the Western Cape” by Dr Seelan Naidoo and Dr Lydia Plaatjies have the common decency to respond fairly to this right of reply. They made some very heavy accusations of racism in their article, which seems to be based on misinformation and lies.

  • anton37 says:

    The original article was such blatant politicking and racially biased ,it was obvious that there is an axe to grind for whatever reason. It is good to see a well articulated reply to set that hack-job “research” straight. Thank you for exposing the writers, I for one will dismiss anything they write in future .To those who hailed it as a well researced article , let it be a note to self that having a PHD and making racial innuendo to score a point does not make that person any more respectable than any vitriolic anonymous poster on social media.

  • The online application system is deficient.

    I applied for 2024 school year in 2023 and one of the schools I selected required a separate school application form and supporting documents. I applied online on the WCED portal and submitted the portal print out, school application form and supporting documents to the school a day after applications opened. In the end my child was declined because the school was “oversubscribed”. The school in question has since opted for parents to complete an “information form” and dropped the supporting documents requirements. In 2023 I was even issued with a proof of application note.

  • Jane Lombard says:

    The authors in the debunked article all work for an education consulting agency. All one has to do is google their names. They should declare who funded their ‘study’ and also any conflict of interest. In what capacity is Stellenbosch’s Roberts (who is also part of the agency) cited, for example?

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


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