School infrastructure the base

People are the most important element of our province, much more than its structures or natural resources. And education is the most important element in improving the lives of South African citizens.

Because of this, we need to focus on the provision of infrastructure to help increase education levels. Remember the saying “Give a person a fish, and they eat for a day. Teach them how to fish, and they eat for a lifetime.” That is why the Eastern Cape provincial government is investing heavily in school infrastructure.

Thanks to the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (Asidi) programme, Dweba Senior Secondary School became the 134th school built in the province under the national government’s programme aimed at eradicating inappropriate school facilities primarily in the rural areas of South Africa.

No wonder Dweba pupils, staff and the community of Ngcolo Tribal Authority, Tabankulu, Mount Frere, were ecstatic with the handover of the school, which cost R42-millon.

Some of the other state-of-the-art schools built under this programme include Mawonga Primary School, in the Mhlonto municipality of Qumbu, which is fully furnished with a science laboratory, a media and resource centre, Grade R and a nutrition centre, worth R20-million.

Pupils of Madlalisa Senior Primary School at Dungu Agricultural Authority, Tabankulu, Mount Frere, also started this school year in a newly-built school as a result of this programme.

ASIDI is confirmation that economic growth, productivity and job creation and a prosperous nation depends in no small degree on the ability to invest in and maintain critical new infrastructure assets.

Economic competitiveness in the province hinges to a significant degree upon increased investment in high quality infrastructure.

Launched in 2011 by the national Department of Basic Education, initially the ASIDI programme started with the planning and construction of 50 schools in our province.

The first phase of ASIDI incorporated a large area of about 8000km² centred around Mthatha, including Libode, Ngqeleni, Port St Johns, Lusikisiki, Flagstaff, Ntabankulu, through to Mqanduli, Elliotdale and the Haven coastal areas.

The ASIDI models incorporate core teaching spaces – classrooms, libraries, laboratories, administration blocks, hygienic ablutions and assembly areas.

The design of the schools is based on the courtyard concept, which provides adequate supervision and observation of pupils in assembly and play areas. The new schools are being used as resource centres for adult education, social services and community centres of learning. Each school has been provided with an average of 20 tanks for water harvesting to ensure availability of clean drinking water.

Thankfully, such projects are not just about the bricks and mortar, but the outcomes of infrastructural development that will reduce poverty, unemployment and inequalities through education and training.

So what is the definition of good infrastructure? While economists may split hairs over the definition, they all agree that in essence, infrastructure consists of all the physical structures and systems that enable a nation, community, state and even an economy to function efficiently.

The economists say the infrastructure that is easily visible is just the tip of the iceberg. Underpinning physical infrastructure is a whole web of systems – from often gigantic power generation and transmission systems, telecommunication networks, transport and logistics, waste disposal operations, and a host of other sub-systems.

When the whole infrastructure complex is coordinated and working like a well-oiled machine, productivity and societal gains are enormous.

Infrastructure provides the framework upon which a nation lives. The state of roads, the quality of telecommunications and the stable supply of power, to name just a few examples, more often than not make the difference between a successful or a struggling nation. So it stands to reason that investing in school infrastructure is investing in a prosperous society of tomorrow.

So why are we spending so much money on school and education infrastructure? As we continue to improve the quality of teaching and learning through provision of adequate, quality infrastructure, we are faced the annual increase in pupil enrolment in the province.

We have embarked on a large- scale investigation to determine infrastructural backlogs. Three major backlogs are: school maintenance, rehabilitation and general refurbishment, including classrooms, electricity, water, sanitation, perimeter security and electronic connectivity.

We believe spending money on schools infrastructure, including the ASIDI programme, and accelerating already-planned projects for roads, housing and other improvements, creates jobs and strengthens other infrastructure services.

School infrastructure investment is the springboard to greater economic growth and ultimately radical economic transformation.

Phumulo Masualle is Premier of the Eastern Cape Province. Follow him on @EC_ Premier and on Facebook at Masincokole.