The Minister of Basic Education Ms Angie Motshekga delivered the department’s budget vote in a mini-plenary in the National Assembly yesterday to outline strategic plans and spending in the public education sector in the financial year 2023/2024.

She tabled an overall allocation of R31,8 billion for the department for the 2023/24 medium term expenditure framework, an increase of 7.0% from last year’s allocation. Among the priorities highlighted by the Minister was the Accelerated School Infrastructure Development Initiative, which was allocated R2.1 billion, this amount is inclusive of the allocation for Sanitation Appropriate for Education Initiative. The National School Nutrition Programme, one of South Africa’s most effective poverty intervention programmes, has been allocated about R9.3billion).

Budget allocation for the building and maintenance of school infrastructure, which is delivered through the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) is in some provinces augmented by the provincial equitable shares allocations. “In addition to the work the Department of Basic Education and provincial education departments have been doing, is the replacement of schools built entirely of inappropriate materials; water supply to schools with no water; delivery of sanitation to schools with no toilets; and electricity supply to schools with no power,” she said.

The Minister said the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) Initiative was launched in 2018 to focus on providing appropriate sanitation to schools, which were dependent on basic pit toilets. In 2018 there were initially 3 898 schools on the SAFE initiative, further assessments and rationalisation decreased this number to 3 395 and as at the end of the 2022/23 financial year, the construction age-appropriate sanitation projects were completed in 2 722 schools. 

The Minister assured the National Assembly that the remaining 673 sanitation projects are scheduled for completion before the end of this year. “As we continue to confront our ongoing challenges in the sector which include, but not limited to learner performance, schools and district offices, infrastructure, resource constraints, school safety, learners and teachers’ well-being, parental involvement, the sector is well poised to face its challenges,” said Minister Motshekga.

The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education Ms Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba welcomed the department’s budget vote, as well as plans to address challenges in the public schooling system. “We commend the department for prioritising school infrastructure in the medium-term strategic framework; there is a need for infrastructural interventions in the sector.

“The committee noted that our schools face the challenge of water shortages, and the committee advised the department to consider installing boreholes and put aside the budget to deal with these issues,” said the committee Chairperson. She also welcomed the department’s plans and commitment to eradicate pit latrines in public schools. “Pit latrines come as far back as the apartheid regime. W we are dealing with a perennial system that was left behind by a government that did not address issues of sanitation and access to water in schools for, particular, a black child,” she said.

Participating in the debate, Mr Baxolise Nodada of the Democratic Alliance argued that there was nothing new in the department’s plans outlined by the Minister. “While South African learners cannot read for meaning; while they attend schools in unsafe environments without food; while they sit in overcrowded classrooms with overworked and underqualified teachers forced to teach an outdated curriculum; the department has no plans in place to turn the situation around to save this generation. They make many promises but there’s little actual impact on the ground, this is nothing new,” he said.

Mr Nodada raised concerns about more than 5 800 schools that have unreliable water supply and said there are 400 mud schools and 900 schools that still have asbestos roofing despite a 2016 deadline to replace them. “Minister, it is high time your department looked at efficient models to build schools of quality quicker to eradicate dangerous infrastructure in schools. Learners and teachers deserve a safe and dignified environment that is conducive to learning and teaching,” he said.

Ms Reneiloe Mashabela of the Economic Freedom Fighters said her party rejected the department’s budget because it perpetuates government’s record of neglect of the basic education sector and by extension its neglect of the lives and futures of millions of children whose futures depend on the ability to acquire decent education. “Not only has the department failed to deliver basic infrastructure needs for the provision of education, but it has also failed to ensure that it employs enough qualified teachers to teach learners at an acceptable teacher-learner ratio“There is a need for intense investment in public education – these include infrastructure, learner support materials and cutting-edge technology to enable our learners in the public education system to compete with their counterparts from anywhere in the world,” said Ms Mashabela.

Sakile Mokoena

19 May 2023