Debate on Vote 5: Education Adjustment Budget
Our budget is indeed a ‘Framework for Hope’:
Hope for our parents,
Hope for our teachers,
And most crucially, hope for our children.
So it gives me great pleasure to introduce the 2022/23 Adjustment Budget for the Western Cape Education Department, which increases our main budget by R17.85 million, from R28.03 billion to R28.05 billion.
Listening and learning
When I was appointed to this role, I decided to take a slightly different approach to establishing my priorities. I embarked on a listening and learning programme, to hear more about existing and new ideas that will help deliver quality education for our learners and hope for our province.
One fact became immediately clear: the principals, teachers, practitioners, and officials that make up the education sector are the greatest asset we have. We entrust our children to their care, to nurture and to guide throughout their schooling career.
And as I said during my speech at the Provincial Teaching Awards, where I was joined by some of the members of this House, the one thing that the pandemic taught us is that schools matter, and that teachers matter.
It came as no surprise to us that our provincial winners went on to shine at the national awards, with no less than four of our teachers winning their categories and a further two placing second.
I thank all of our teachers across the province, for their innovation, dedication, integrity, commitment, courage, caring, and most importantly, the deep love that they have for the children of the Western Cape.
With such care and dedication in our classrooms, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
It is clear that we have many great public schools delivering excellent results across our province.
Our National Senior Certificate results for 2021 demonstrate continuing improvement, with a 1.3 percentage point increase in the pass rate, and the top bachelors pass rate, Maths and Science pass rates, and percentage of distinctions in the country. We also have two districts in the country’s top ten.
We should be proud of this achievement, and of the work that our schools are doing.
But we must not forget the challenges. A few schools visits really stood out for me during my listening and learning programme:
At Gordon High School, I experienced the reality of overcrowded classrooms. Every available space in the school has been converted into a classroom, be it a storeroom or a staffroom.
At Kalksteenfontein Primary School, I learned that out of a full class of Grade R learners, only a handful had lunchboxes, bringing home the striking reality of our learners’ home circumstances.
At Bardale Primary School, which is one of our oldest mobile schools in the province, it was clear that we have a great need for upgrading schools across the board, even as we build new schools.
And Manenberg High School, a teacher relayed her traumatic experience of having a bullet fly through the window of the staff room, showing just how difficult it can be to educate children in areas plagued by violent crime.
One thing these schools had in common was excellent leadership, and profoundly committed and hard-working teachers.
Every one of them was positive and proactive, with a common sense of purpose to uplift our children, and I am truly inspired by their work.
These are schools of great potential – we just need to help them get there.
But, we cannot say that a child is receiving quality education if:
- There are too many learners in a class,
- There are too few teachers in a school, and
- There are too few schools in our province.
Bold education agenda
I want us to have more beautiful, safe, inspiring schools that deliver great results in poor communities, so that we deliver better opportunities, and brighter futures, and indeed, hope, for all of our children.
Which is why we are setting a bold new education agenda to do this.
- Employing up to 1 143 additional teachers to staff new classrooms and bring down class sizes;
- Offering permanent posts to up to 500 qualified Grade R teachers already employed in our schools in a subsidised post, to retain their skills in the system and expand our provision of Grade R;
- Aiming to deliver up to 26 000 new places in our schools next year through our unprecedented school infrastructure delivery programme; and
- Taking decisive steps to reverse the learning losses that have knock-on effects throughout our learners’ schooling careers.
Rapid school build
We have just announced the biggest, fastest, and most ambitious school infrastructure delivery programme in years, which aims to deliver 842 new classrooms for the 2023 school year.
We are in a position to do so as a result of our budget increase, along with having greater flexibility in implementing our infrastructure programme.
The number of learners in our province’s schools has grown by an average of 17 900 learners every year for the past five years. Accommodating these new entrants alone would require the construction of 20 new schools each year.
But there are a number of other factors affecting school infrastructure, such as the backlog in provision from past years which has led to crowded classrooms.
We also have a very old portfolio of infrastructure, having inherited many buildings from the apartheid era that need maintenance and replacement.
These needs must be weighed against the need for new infrastructure, despite the current projections that the average increase in learner numbers will continue.
Our province continues to draw new entrants to our school systems, as parents seek our better economic opportunities and a higher quality of education, and we must make provision for this pattern to continue.
The 842 classrooms planned, which would provide 26 000 extra places in our schools, are spread over a number of different types of projects. These include:
- 3 brick and mortar new and replacement schools in Moorreesburg, Malmesbury, and Lotus River
- 5 new mobile schools in Klapmuts, Lwandle, Tafelsig, and Mitchell’s Plain;
- 645 additional classrooms at existing schools; and
- 7 Rapid School Build Programme projects in Delft, Atlantis, Rivergate, Lwandle, Wallacedene, Hout Bay, and Century City.
As we outlined to the Standing Committee on Education, we have already completed 164 classrooms planned for next year, and a further 510 are scheduled for completion by January 2023, and the final 168 are due to be completed by March 2023.
The Rapid School Build Programme is an exciting new infrastructure programme which seeks to brings together various stakeholders with the aim of developing and building 7 schools within six months to accommodate up to 3 200 learners.
The management, speed and cooperation in the Rapid School Build Programme differentiate it from typical projects. We are using new building technologies, like the Moladi technology which uses frames to mould permanent concrete walls. Our contractors have been very receptive to the programme, and will be working through the traditional builders’ holidays to help us deliver more places for learners.
All of these new classrooms will of course need teachers to teach in them. Earlier this year, we announced one of the largest increases in the Basket of Posts in quite some time, allowing us to appoint up to 1 143 extra teachers for the 2023 school year.
Now some opposition members have already started criticizing us for the scale of the school build, saying that the programme is “over-ambitious”.
I am reminded of a quote by Franklin D Roosevelt:
“The country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another.
But above all, try something.”
If ever there was a time to be ambitious,
A time to lean in,
A time to be bold,
And a time to try something,
That time is now.
So we will not apologise for our ambition of providing 26 000 new places for the 2023 school year.
Yes, we have already had problems at some of our sites, which is extremely disappointing. And any disruption or delay will deprive learners of places next year.
We have briefed the Standing Committee on Education openly on the considerable risks. And yes, it is possible that some of the 842 classrooms may be delayed.
But this is not a reason not to try.
When I saw the speed at which the Moladi classrooms were going up at Hindle High School last week, and how beautiful the completed ones at Westridge Secondary School look, I was filled with a sense of optimism and purpose.
So while we are indeed aware that it this not an easy task, and that there are many risks, I hope that we can all work together to prioritise the delivery of school infrastructure for our children.
At the same time, we must not lose sight of the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic had on learners already in our schools.
Earlier this year, we announced that the results of the 2021 systemic tests reveal severe learning losses associated with the pandemic. While we had previously made great progress with a steady increase in performance in years preceding 2020, these gains were unfortunately reversed by the pandemic.
The greatest learning losses can be seen in the Foundation Phase. These learning losses will have serious knock-on effects as these learners progress through their school careers.
It was for this reason that we implemented a Back on Track intervention to reverse the learning losses in the Foundation Phase. We took the decisive step of adding an extra 2 hours per week allocated to reading and 1 extra hour per week for Mathematics, for all Grade 1 to 3 learners in the province – amounting to an increase of at least 60 learning hours per learner in these subjects.
I am pleased to report that in a recent survey of our schools, 94% of teachers indicated that they would like the additional time allocation to continue in 2023. The majority of teachers indicated that the additional time allocation was beneficial for the learners, and 96% of teachers indicated that they could integrate Life Skills into Languages with ease.
Moreover, the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) results, which are measured twice a year, also showed improvement across all eight education districts.
We have taken this information to the national department, and have already had a number of positive conversations with them about implementing the additional time allocations across the country, so that the unequal impact of learning losses can be addressed for learners in all provinces – not just in the Western Cape.
In the end, what we to see is schools that deliver hope to our children.
The fact is that the vast majority of our country want to live together in harmony and want to improve the quality of life for all who live in our country.
What we do not need in our country is division.
What we do need is unity and compassion toward one another.
Yes, we will face challenges, and there are no doubt more difficult times ahead.
But we will overcome those challenges if we keep in mind this central goal: the unity, equality, and wellbeing of our children.
And we will overcome those challenges if we all work together to achieve the vision of quality education for every child, in every classroom, in every school in the Western Cape.