Speech delivered by MEC Schafer at the Policy debate on Budget Vote No 14 – Basic Education | Western Cape Education Department

Speech delivered by MEC Schafer at the Policy debate on Budget Vote No 14 – Basic Education

"Chairperson, Minister Motshekga announced in her speech in the National Assembly last month, the measures that her Department is taking to improve quality and efficiency in education throughout the country, with a renewed emphasis on curriculum coverage, improving assessment and strengthening quality, efficiency and accountability in our schools, districts and provinces.

All these are admirable goals, in fact they are essential, and the Minister is to be commended for acknowledging that these need to be improved. But acknowledgement alone does not achieve anything - there need to be actions that follow.

A quality education for every child, in every school and every classroom is essential to give our youth the best possible opportunities in life.

But we all know that the quality of education in our country has been sorely lacking for far too long, despite us spending a very large amount of money on it. Even though we have improved somewhat in international maths and language tests, we remain shockingly low on the performance tables.

Minister Motshekga spoke in the NA of a new dawn under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa, but I'm afraid it is actually more like a mirage in the desert - an illusion far away that does not actually exist.

Our country is facing an economic crisis of epic proportions, with the GDP declining by 2.2% in the first quarter of this year - the largest in nine years, owing to unsustainable and excessive expenditure by ANC led provinces and national government, corruption and maladministration, and policies that stifle economic growth.

Under the ANC Government, according to their own Minister Pravin Gordhan, more than R100 billion has been lost to state capture. State-owned enterprises continue to swallow up billions with no accountability whatsoever, one example being SAA, which has received almost R20 billion extra in the past twelve months alone.

And of course all this happened whilst Mr "New Dawn" Ramaphosa was still trying to rise, in his capacity as Deputy President.

And every year education comes under more and more pressure, with us being told to "make a plan", and "do more with less", whilst we watch these billions disappearing into the abyss of corruption and maladministration. What is our childrens' future worth to the ANC?

Well let's take a look.

Whilst all the shenanigans continue, the amount allocated to education nationally has been quietly and consistently reducing. In a recent article by Nic Spaull, he highlighted that funding per learner has declined by 8% in the last seven years, from R17 822 in 2010 to R16 435 in 2017. If we are to strengthen quality, efficiency and accountability in our schools, districts and provinces, we need to invest in basic education, and these amounts should be increasing annually, not decreasing. This, especially, in the light of the population burst that occurred around 2003-2005, which is now affecting our high schools. Add to that the fact that we are trying to improve retention in our schools, which will obviously mean we need more resources. So on what possible logic can we be expected to do this on a reducing budget every year?

Every year our class sizes are increasing and we are coming under increasing pressure to maintain existing schools and keep up with the demand for new schools. Cos why? There's no money, we are told.

The President recently directed Minister Motshekga to perform an audit of school sanitation and present a plan to eradicate pit toilets, given the tragic drowning of two learners in human faeces. The Western Cape has no pit toilets, but there are still 4 358 schools across the country that only have plain pit latrines as toilets, and a total of 37 schools in the Eastern Cape had no ablution facilities whatsoever.

But I'm afraid the President speaks with forked tongue - how does he expect provinces to eradicate all these toilets when he has just presided over the tabling of a budget that reduces the Education Infrastructure Grant by a whopping R7.3 billion over the MTEF and R3.5 billion for 2018/19?

The National Quintile system continues to disadvantage our poorer learners. I have been raising this since I came into office. The DBE knows it, but says they can't change it - cos why? There's no money.

School safety is an escalating crisis, with attacks becoming more and more violent. Yet SAPS remains under-resourced and the criminal justice system is failing us. Just this week we again heard how the police to population ratio in the Western Cape has increased even more! We simply cannot get on with our primary mandate of educating our children, as we have to keep compensating for the failure of national government in almost every respect.

It is exhausting and depressing in so many ways.

But Chairperson, it is not all doom and gloom in South African education. Because, despite all the difficulties we face, we in the Western Cape are resilient and committed to the future of our children. Our dedicated teachers and officials are working tirelessly to continue providing quality education, and we are managing to innovate as well, because in the Western Cape, people have confidence in us, as we are a capable state.

In 2016, I published a draft Education Amendment Bill, which has now been tabled in the Provincial Legislature. We have been piloting the new School Evaluation Authority for over a year now, with excellent feedback. A crucial part of this pilot is improving our use of data, and we are developing very useful tools for our officials to use to identify performance trends and more accurately determine areas for improvement and where accountability for these actions lies.

I am particularly excited about this new innovation that will drive school improvement through accountability and support in this financial year.

The Minister spoke about her commitment to the National Education Collaboration Trust, focusing on the importance of public-private partnerships. Another provision in the Amendment Bill is the Provision made specifically for collaboration schools. The aim of this project was to bring in additional education management skills and innovation into the public school system, through non-profit partnerships to improve the quality of teaching and learning in no-fee public schools, assisted by top-up funding from private donors. It is one of the ways that I truly believe we can narrow the gap between richer and poorer communities, and it is yielding promising results. Our Collaboration Schools project now comprises 10 schools. In spite of resistance from certain quarters, we have had excellent responses from communities and they are happy with what they are seeing. The systemic tests last year showed some very promising improvements. Since the inception of the new model, the various funders have committed over R150 million to the project.

In the face of the crippling drought we are facing, we have partnered with private companies and the University of Stellenboch, to install 285 smart meters in our schools, which have saved over 84 million litres of water and over R6.9 million.

I am also proud that the Western Cape is leading the way in terms of e-learning. We recognise that a reliable internet connection is as critical as having access to water and electricity, if we want to create the foundation for an effective learning environment in our schools in the 21st century.

By the end of this term of office, 350 schools will have a local area network connecting every instruction room to the internet. And, by the end of March, almost 900 schools will have connectivity coverage at selected points in a school. We will also have installed over 6 400 smart classrooms, and upgraded technology in 910 ICT labs at schools. This is an increase of just over 2 400 smart classrooms and 705 labs over the past two years.

I think that is something worth celebrating.

Chairperson, I would love to go on for much longer about our successes, but unfortunately I don't have the time, and I cannot end before touching on the matter of history. The Minister recently published the report of the Ministerial Task Team, which is recommending making History a compulsory subject for all learners in Grades 10 to 12.

The report states quite clearly in the first few pages, that the Minister is under political pressure.

Jonathen Jansen wrote an excellent article on this last week, wherein he analysed that this proposal originated at the lowest depths of the Zuma presidency. He then makes an important point, and I quote:

"Black nationalists are no different from White nationalists - their goal is to impress their version of history on the people in the same way that they will not rest until every major airport is named after an African nationalist".

THAT is the real reason for this recommendation. Not the interests of the learners, who will have their choice of curriculum curtailed, but the interests of the ANC, and the ANC alone.

There is no question that the history curriculum has been inadequate and did not portray our full history. But this can be corrected in the curriculum until Grade 9!

We do not need a nation of historians - we need a nation of mathematicians, scientists, artisans, accountants and computer coders. And people should be able to choose the curriculum that best meets their chosen career after school. Taking history until matric will not serve our young people and will NOT help them to be productive members of the economy, which will further exacerbate the youth unemployment crisis we are facing. Minister, do the right thing for our youth, not the ANC. If this proposal is carried through into policy, our economy will be HISTORY.

Chairperson, it is clear that we are living in very difficult financial times, and this is impacting on education. But a lot of the reasons for this are self-inflicted.

We need a capable state that uses every single cent to the maximum benefit of the citizens of this wonderful country - and that is only going to be achieved under a DA government! Because there IS money - it is just in the wrong places!

The President wanted us to #Sendhim - well a good place to start is to send him to go and recover those stolen and wasted billions that should be used to improve the education of our children!

Then maybe we can start to speak about a new dawn".