Eastern Cape education MEC Mandla Makupula, who has presided over the worst performing province in the country for six years, has blamed the legacy of the homeland system for failing to improve the situation.
In a wide-ranging interview at the Bhisho Legislature this week the beleaguered Makupula said problems in the province’s education sector were systemic and the solution was not the number of education MECs the province hired.
“I don’t believe removing Makupula is the answer but at the same time I don’t want to be seen to be fighting to stay on the job,” he said in his own defence.
“You can change a man or an individual but without addressing the problems in the system you won’t make a difference. People must appreciate that the organisation is complex and for years it was slack. I am not bragging, but since 1994 this department has been received a disclaimer in audit opinion up to 2012.”
He said that for two or three consecutive years his department had achieved unqualified audits and it was working at achieving a clean audit. He added that he was working on a turn-around strategy, which included hiring mentors for principals and focusing on the five worst performing districts in the province.
Makupula said the province had positive traits, including the fact that it was number five in terms of overall quality education producing bachelor passes and number four in diplomas, despite being ranked last overall.
He said he planned to pay attention to the five districts to improve performance.
This month he would visit these districts, interacting with principals and school governing bodies to make sure they understood and bought into his department’s school improvement plans. His plan started last year, targeting 560 out 926 ailing high schools, he said.
Makupula added that his department had installed telematics and information technology in 244 of the 560 targeted schools. This year he would connect 157 more schools.
He said the department also planned to hire mentors for principals by bringing back about 140 retired principals and educational officers who had good performance records into the system to assist the incumbents in the 560 selected schools to mentor them to make sure they stuck to their job.
“We have bounced back from a 56.8% matric pass in 2015 to 59.3% in 2016. We rate ourselves as being in an upward trend,” said Makupula.
From December 31, Eastern Cape education officials were in the Free State to study how that province managed to achieve such remarkable results which placed them at number one spot, with 93%. The Eastern Cape has repeatedly failed to attain its own target of 70% for many years.
Makupula admitted the 70% target was not “a realistic thing” in a province with the second-biggest education system – it had 5 537 schools, after KwaZulu-Natal, which had 6 030 schools.
He was nonetheless positive that his department, which had a R1.7 billion budget – the lion’s share in the province’s budget – was unlikely to spend most of the money. This was despite an outcry last year when the department was criticised for failing to spend R550 millions of its infrastructure budget.
“We might be left with less than R200 million unspent due to the bureaucratic chain in government. Even at that level it is frustrating. Everything is done by somebody else. For instance, a teacher is trained by the university, a school is built by a private company, books are delivered by a service provider and there might be other interests other than what are a priority to me, “said Makupula.
He also acknowledged the province still had under resourced mud schools. Addressing those was “proving a challenge” with informal settlements mushrooming all over the place, which resulted in these communities building improper schools.
He said the people who settled in these informal settlements near cities, left behind villages – some with modern schools built by the government. This led to new schools operating without sufficient numbers of pupils.
He said it was unfortunate that the population migration was forcing the government to rationalise the schools by merging them and closing down ones that were not viable.
He said that through the accelerated school infrastructure delivery initiative programme, the province was assisted by the national government to build some of the schools. Of the 135 schools built nationally, 90 of them were in the Eastern Cape.