Members of Parliament have accused the basic education department of putting a gloss over the challenges at schools during a briefing this morning on school readiness for 2017.
While ANC MPs in the education portfolio committee expressed concerns, they were diplomatic in their criticism. But the Democratic Alliance’s Gavin Davis and Desiree van der Walt pulled no punches, claiming that some of the statistics were simply not true.
“The picture you are telling us is a fairytale. From the feedback we get, it is a totally different story,” said Davis after deputy director-general Palesa Tyobeka delivered her report, which highlighted many improvements in delivery and turnaround for 2017.
For instance, Davis questioned the claim that there were no schools without sanitation in Limpopo province.
“There are schools there in dire straits in terms of sanitation. How do you come to the conclusion that every school in Limpopo has sanitation? That is a blatant distortion, a falsehood, and it raises questions about the general statistics of the presentation.”
ANC members said some of the presentation’s findings did not match their observations during on-site inspections of schools.
MP Timothy Khoza raised concerns about school furniture.
The department said it had delivered 13 229 desks to 103 schools in the Eastern Cape and Limpopo to the value of more than R8 million this year. However, Khoza said that maintenance of furniture was neglected, and when the portfolio committee visited schools “you see the passages packed with [broken] furniture that is not being maintained”.
Sympathising with the department in its quest to get accurate information from every school in nine provincial departments, committee chairperson Nomalungelo Gina said: “It is not that we don’t trust the reports, but we cannot stop asking questions. We have to work together.”
Her chief concern was around what she described as “blind spots” regarding the delivery of text books, which was a provincial competency. During an inspection of schools in the Eastern Cape by the committee, one school had not received a single text book in three years, she said.
The department highlighted that almost 100% of workbooks had been delivered for next year, but the delivery of textbooks was much more erratic, with no report yet from the Free State and Limpopo.
Gina red-flagged delivery issues in Limpopo, a province with historic problems, pointing out that the tender for stationery had only just been finalised. “This means they haven’t even started delivery for next year.”
Gina requested a progress report from the department during the end-of-year break.
In response to MPs, Tyobeka welcomed the feedback and acknowledged that the figures did not always accurately reflect the situation on the ground. However, she said, the national department was conducting its own checks at provincial level and following through with inconsistencies.
During her presentation, Tyobeka updated Parliament on registrations next year, saying that Gauteng had the highest admissions challenge due to the demand for placement in that province. Of the 297 505 applications for Grade 1 and Grade 8, 124 454 of pupils – or 41% – were still unplaced.
The Western Cape also experienced high demand, and had 29 330 unplaced pupils for 2017.
Other hot spots included East London, Port Elizabeth, King Williams Town and Mthatha in the Eastern Cape; Frances Baard and John Taolo Gaetsewe in the Northern Cape; and Potchefstroom, Klerksdorp, Schweizer-Reneke and Rustenburg in the North West. Also mentioned under hot spot, but listed as manageable, were the Free State and Mpumalanga, Durban and Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal, and Polokwane.
» Textbook and workbook shortages or delays at schools can be reported telephonically on 086 100 4357, or to the director of learner and teacher support material, Allan Subban, on (012) 3574195
Highlighting challenges for school readiness for 2017, the department of basic education told Parliament:
» Migration to major cities continued to be a challenge in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape;
» Schools in some provinces (example KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape) were still charging registration fees;
» There was inconsistent application of admission policies by some schools primarily in some former Model C schools;
» The North West and Gauteng provinces experienced a shortage of classrooms; and
» The Eastern Cape, Limpopo Mpumalanga and North West were slow with their admissions responses, and to resolve registered queries.