As the Eastern Cape Legislature portfolio committee on education, we are of the view that to make fundamental and necessary changes to education in the province, the schooling system must be reconfigured and restructured.
Our schooling system is numbers driven. As a result, if a school does not have enough learners it cannot be properly resourced.
The committee has verified that the Eastern Cape has 2077 dysfunctional, small and unviable schools – a crisis in terms of the national provisioning policy.
The department must merge these schools with others, downgrade some or close them down. Having a school with less than 100 pupils means the school is unable to provide qualitative education.
As a province, we are contributing to the national discourse, even though many schools are empty or with diminishing numbers of learners.
This can be attributed to several factors, some beyond the control of the education sector. For example, a country with a centralised economic model that is skewed towards cities will automatically result in a labour migration phenomenon, which in turn influences learner migration from rural to semi-urban areas and from semi-urban to urban.
So the dwindling numbers of rural schools invite serious debate on the concrete meaning of local economic development and the integrated development strategy, not just from a policy point of view but equally in terms of funding and our commitment to these policy imperatives.
In the Eastern Cape education sector we need to restructure the schooling system so that it talks to the requirements of government policy.
In the view of the education committee, we must speed up implementing the response to research done in 2009 which pointed to a further core cause of the education crisis in the Eastern Cape: this province has a three-tier schooling system whilst the rest of the country has two tiers.
The sooner we abandon the junior secondary level and shift grades 8 and 9 into the secondary section, the better for all.
This will give learners a five-year period at secondary level. Even if a learner is slow, at least the contingent of teachers will better understand that particular learner.
This junior secondary phenomenon is predominantly found in the former Transkei, where the learner population is largest.
We also need to seriously improve the overall conditions – the road networks and the rollout of technological advances and connections – for our schools in that corner of the province.
And we need to make a conscious decision regarding resourcing of the middle management layer that deals with monitoring, evaluation and assessment of schools in order to provide the tools of the trade that make them viable.
The capacity of the infrastructure development agencies as vehicles for transporting our ambitions for change needs to kick in here because they are under-performing.
If this continues, the decisions taken towards improvement as highlighted above will not see the light of day.
This means Coega and the department of public works – the infrastructure directorate agencies – need to be equal to the task. They must pull up their socks.
The decision to relocate learners, only to find there are no classrooms for them in some destination schools, is a problem that undermines the objective of streamlining for better quality education.
As the education portfolio committee, we have agreed that the department needs to reconfigure education districts 12 to 23.
This is one of the outstanding policy directives from as far back as 1997, when then president Nelson Mandela pronounced that all departments must be aligned as structures of government.
This should long ago have been acted on.
We have reverted to that decision to achieve proper management and coordination of government programmes. That process is expected to kick in on April 1.
However, all transitions need to be properly managed because changes can be disruptive.
Meanwhile none of the under-performing districts have district directors.
We need to appoint district directors on 12- to 18-month contracts while we are dealing with the transition.
Care must be taken on issues such as school stability, infrastructure and viability. All of these must be accounted for.
The learner-teacher support material (LTSM) is a problem we need to tackle differently because for us, as the committee, it is unacceptable that there are still schools without textbooks or stationery in January when it is time for children to go to school.
Government planning takes place in September.
There can be no excuse from any official in the department that a particular district forwarded its submission in November.
During the time when schools were purchasing their own LTSM, they were receiving it in good time. We will have to raise the debate of centralisation at strategic leadership level because it is a problem.
We understand the centralisation concept has an element of buying more for a lower price but this cannot be at the cost of education stability. Learning and teaching must start on the first day.
The committee expects that on the first day there will be a teacher and textbooks in front of all learners.
The department must write memos to principals and school governing bodies telling them to ensure their children bring back textbooks at the end of each year. Textbooks have a five-year life-span. Buying new ones almost every year is a problem.
We have also picked up an issue of schools that do not have teachers while they have vacancies. The key is to manage the human resources one has, teachers in particular, through redeployment.
An alternative is a multi-term declaration, not a single-term one, to stabilise redeployment issues. This will create stability, enabling schools to have their preferred teachers and allow learners to have teachers whom they know and understand.
In the past five months the department has battled with learner verification. We must ensure that the South African school administration and management system (SA-SAMS), as the mechanism that gives data on schools, is credible.
If we could link SA-SAMS with Home Affairs and Social Development it would help. This requires mastering the inter- governmental relations platform.
Last year, the department of education returned R530-million to Treasury.
As a committee we have developed plans so that this does not happen again, especially since we have schools lacking classrooms and furniture.
We need to distinguish whether we are being failed by policies or whether we have a serious incapacity problem in the department.
The committee feels one problem relates to language policy. Learners who write exams in their first language do not have the barriers of those learners who must translate their home language into English.
Developed countries have developed through first language teaching and learning. We propose expanding the bilingual programme introduced in Cofimvaba over the past four years as it has yielded positive outcomes. Last year we agreed it should be spread across the province in 10 districts, over a range of 200 schools.
We feel we are turning a corner in the Eastern Cape. In terms of the quality of the outputs, we have increased the number of learners who are eligible for Bachelors degrees and in terms of the national standard in quality we are not last but number five.
This is a clear indication that we are moving forward. But another collective challenge is to ensure we don’t have learners who go missing from the system.
Out of 92000 learners who registered for Grade 12, only 82700 wrote exams. This means more than 9000 learners could not be accounted for.
Directly or indirectly this means we have put more pressure on the social relief programmes. We must ask parents to ensure their children go to school. Our schools must readmit repeaters because there are few private sector opportunities.
Let us ensure our teachers are on time and delivering what is expected, and that those managing our institutions are aware that proper education is life and death for those who have nothing.
It cannot be business as usual for those who manage education in the province.
Resources must be delivered in good time, including LTSM, and those building our schools must expedite the process so we can reap the benefits of what we are endeavouring to sow.
Fundile Gade is an MPL and chair of the education portfolio committee, Bhisho