KZN 2010/2011 Budget Debate -
Education (Vote 5)

 

By Roman Liptak MPL
 

KwaZulu-Natal Legislature
Pietermaritzburg : 21 April 2010

 

Chairperson, with the current budget of R29-billion - R4-billion up from the previous financial year - education remains the largest single item of our spending. This means that education remains KwaZulu-Natal’s number one priority. We in the Official Opposition could not agree more: investment in quality public education is the best investment any government can make.

 

As we see it, these levels of government expenditure will only be justified if they contribute to social change. Our schools mustn’t continue to replicate the circumstances of the communities they serve. They must rise above those circumstances and become places where children from disadvantaged backgrounds are presented with an opportunity to better themselves, their families and, ultimately, the entire communities.

 

Chairperson, quality education depends primarily on the quality of teaching. We sometimes forget that teaching is not just a job, it is a vocation. We forget that teachers are highly specialised professionals and we need to treat them accordingly. The official attitude towards teachers is often patronising while the approach towards learners is too liberal. Let me put it bluntly: too often we treat teachers as children while, at the same time, we treat pupils as adults. What I mean by this is that teachers often feel micromanaged while pupils benefit from the lack of discipline in schools.

 

In order to improve the quality of teaching and to attract new talent to the profession, the government must continue to raise teachers’ salaries. Given that the compensation bill is the single largest line item in the entire budget and therefore the biggest cost driver, we urge the department to prioritise two aspects of wage increases: firstly, it must make further adjustments to the occupation specific dispensation for educators and, secondly, it must improve remuneration for longer service. We must warn that annual wage agreements in excess of 5 percent across the board will lead to a further budget overdraft. It is also essential that we limit the number of administrative posts and maximise the number of teaching posts.

 

As the department continues to fill critical posts, it must be conscious of rewarding excellence and ensuring accountability. Deployment of political loyalists, which is rife in the civil service in general, has had devastating effects on the quality of education. We urge the MEC to consider this aggravating factor and, at the same time, ensure that principals who do not perform are taken to task and lose their posts, if necessary.

 

Chairperson, during last week’s budget debates, we urged the MEC for Co-operative Governance to reduce the reporting and compliance burden of municipalities and we urged the MEC for Social Development to minimise the caseloads of social workers. We now appeal to the MEC for Education to reduce the administrative and curriculum workload of teachers. The vast amounts of paperwork educators are expected to fill in are distractions that detract from teaching.

 

The extra time we gain by doing so must be divided between actual teaching and getting better at teaching through training. But instead of generic training workshops that are often designed indiscriminately for teachers from both performing and non-performing schools, training should target the individual teacher according to his or her specific needs. Another concern about training, as we know it, is that teachers are often taken out of the classroom to participate in it during teaching time. The department must see to it that training sessions take place on-site and outside of school hours.

 

In addition to tailor-made training, interventions such as enlisting experts to teach complex sections of the syllabus, particularly at underperforming schools, are the sort that can make a real difference in the classroom. I would like to thank the Hon. MEC for his resp mentary question about the number, nature and distribution of vacancies of subject advisers across the province.

 

These vacancies have been identified as one of the primary causes of non-performance in past matric examinations and we hope that the reported 133 vacancies will be advertised and filled in time to impact on the 2010 matric exams. We plead that special attention is paid to mathematics and sciences. I would like to encourage the Hon. MEC to report on progress in this regard.

 

One last staff issue I would like to mention has to do with the tensions which have recently manifested themselves through allegations of fraud and corruption levelled by SADTU against a number of high-ranking officials in the department, including the Head of Department. We have learnt that the investigation into these allegations is nearing completion and the report compiled by the Ngubane & Company Consortium would be made public soon. We hope it will help clear the air between the concerned parties.

 

The recent practice in the department which contributed to overspending was related to excessive travel expenditure, launches and workshops in opulent venues, promotional items, parties and other unnecessary expenditure. The Provincial Recovery Plan and the determination of the Hon. MEC for Finance to cut all frivolous expenditure are sufficient guarantee that we should be able to curb extravagance in future.

 

We hope that these cost-cutting measures will be matched by equally careful analysis and research to determine where new schools are most needed, where infrastructure is at its oldest and in need of replacement, and where overcrowding in classrooms is most severe.

 

I would like to highlight one particular case and plead for additional infrastructure on behalf of Makhedama High School in the Umzinyathi District whose own communication with the department has not yielded any results. I would like to assure the Hon. MEC that the additional classrooms and a laboratory the school is requesting will be in the good hands of a dedicated principal and will serve the entire community for many years to come.

 

Chairperson, one item we specifically applauded in the national education budget was the minister’s pledge to roll out workbooks in all eleven languages. We would like the Hon. MEC to comment on the progress made in this regard in our province given that the department’s distribution of textbooks has not always been up to standard. We recall the past incidents during Hon. MEC Cronje’s time in this department when some schools received textbooks late or not at all. We understand that some inefficiencies linked to Indiza have been ironed out but we would like to get an assurance from the present MEC that distribution of LTSM is now up to scratch.

 

Similar confusion has in the past extended to the implementation of the department’s policy on no-fee schools. Since 2005 when these schools were introduced, misunderstandings regarding the policy meant that some schools continued to charge fees. Some schools have run the perpetual risk of losing their no-fee status on account of failing to submit their audited financial results on a prescribed date.

 

Another source of confusion stemmed from the misunderstanding that no-fee status meant that these schools would receive additional funding over and above the allocation in terms of the national Norms and Standards for School Funding. On paper, there are 3 382 no-fee schools in the province, up from 1 346 in 2005. We would like the Hon. MEC to clarify how many of these no-fee schools are truly functional and live up to this description.

 

Chairperson, we would like to hear from the Hon. MEC about the extent of his department’s co-operation with the law enforcement agencies in connection with violence and substance abuse in schools. We would appreciate the Hon. MEC’s comment on the number of search and seizure operations conducted by the SAPS on school premises across the province to make our schools weapons-free, where zero-tolerance message is starting to get through to would be offenders.

 

We understand that the 2010 school timetable has been reorganized around the FIFA World Cup to enable teachers and pupils to participate in this momentous event. We urge the department to ensure these disruptions do not have lasting effects beyond the end of the tournament.

 

In conclusion, I wish to say how much we appreciate the co-operation between the department and the portfolio committee. I would particularly like to thank both the department and this Legislature for facilitating school visits for all its members. These field trips are an eye opening experience and I would like to see them replicated in other portfolio committees in this House.

 

I thank you.



Contact:
Roman Liptak
078 302 0929