Despite the devastating effects of the coronavirus, the Minister of Basic Education, Ms Angie Motshekga, says her department has been resilient and done its best to salvage what was left of the 2020 education calendar. Ms Motshekga was delivering the Department of Basic Education’s budget vote in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) today.

She told NCOP permanent delegates that, despite budget cuts, the department is determined to bring about a just, equitable and inclusive quality education. To ensure the school curriculum is relevant and prepares learners for the world of work, the department has now introduced marine and aviation curriculums to equip pupils with necessary occupational skills for the job market. “Guidelines have been developed and 103 schools have been audited to become part of the pilot of occupational subjects.”

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has also secured R7 million from education State Information Technology Agency to introduce coding and robotics at primary schools. In addition, it has upgraded information and communication technology (ICT) in over 190 schools and equipped them with software for teaching and learning that was donated by mobile and IT companies. The DBE has also committed to rollout school infrastructure programmes to eradicate mud schools and poor water and sanitation infrastructure, especially in rural areas.

One of the major interventions of the current budget is the relocation of early childhood education to the department. “This process is currently at an advance stage,” Ms Motshekga said.

Responding to the budget presentation, the Chairperson of the Select Committee on Education, Mr Elleck Nchabeleng, said the DBE has a critical mandate to bring to fruition the developmental state, as envisioned in the Constitution. This is not an easy task. “The department is to this day battling with the education system of the privileged on one hand and the unprivileged on the other, which were created by apartheid.”

One way to address this gap, he said, is to reduce the teacher-learner ratio in schools, as this has a direct impact on the quality of education, especially in overcrowded township schools. He commended the department for the rollout of digital devices to schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas, an endeavour that has become even more important during the pandemic.

The DBE’s goal to make all schools “safe schools” requires an increase in the rate of infrastructure development, Mr Nchabeleng said. “We still have mud schools and schools that lack basic necessary water and sanitation. The depart must address that as a matter of urgency.” As for gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), the Chairperson urged the department to introduce a GBVF curriculum to instil gender equity values in children at a very early age.

Participating in the debate in the NCOP on the DBE’s budget, permanent delegate Ms Delmaine Christians (Democratic Alliance) said that children’s rights to safe, clean school facilities have been violated by the decrease in the DBE’s budget, which will impact significantly on its ability to build infrastructure and redress unequal resource allocation between wealthy and poor schools. She called the budget cuts inhumane. How can a 400 million budget cut on necessary school infrastructure be deemed humane, she asked. “A budget that does not safe guard the lives of the children can’t be deemed humane.”

Weighing on the ideal of safe schools, another delegate, Mr Xolani Ngwezi (Inkatha Freedom Party) wanted to know why schools are open when South Africa is fighting the third wave of Covid-19. “I understand the need for children to get educated and regain the lost time during lock down, but we should not put education before lives,” he contested.  

Ms Seneanye Lehihi (Economic Freedom Fighters) began by reiterating the divided nature of South Africa’s education system: white and privileged versus black and under-resourced. The under-resourced schools also suffer from poorly skilled teachers, who lack skills in subjects such as maths and science, further disadvantaging black students.

Despite all the department’s efforts, Ms Lehihi continued, many pupils do not complete their schooling. “It’s estimated that between 500 000 to 1 million school children who start grade R don’t make it to matric and are unaccounted for by the department. Sadly, they will remain unskilled, unemployed and unemployable, and most of them are black.”

Abel Mputing
8 June 2021