Minister Motshekga needs to summon up some political will
Dr Wilmot James, DA Spokesperson on Basic Education
12 October 2011
Presenting her department’s 2010/2011 Annual Report to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Basic Education yesterday, Minister Angie Motshekga painted a mixed picture.
She is to be congratulated for achieving an unqualified audit for the 2010/2011 financial year. Credit is also due for leading the provinces towards a very high level of enrolment: 99 per cent of 7-15 year olds who should be in school, are in school.
But the Minister admitted that, while access to schooling is today near universal, our education system is hobbled by the high drop-out rate and the number of poor quality passes. The Democratic Alliance (DA) admires the Minister’s candour.
Candour is one thing, however; a solution quite another. Minister Motshekga has a monumental problem to solve that will take every ounce of political will she has. Every independent international benchmark survey ranks our education system among the weakest in the world – despite having one of the largest education budgets of the developing countries.
Part of the problem is that we don’t spend the money efficiently. In fact, the education department spent only 89,4 per cent of its budget, with R17,086 million left unspent when it comes to teacher development, another R18,407 million left in change for planning and a whopping R608,945 million left over against curriculum policy.
The second reason for the poor performance of our schools is a lack of innovation in the department. There is no think-tank, no debate, no experimentation and, worst of all, no sense of urgency to put the best teachers – especially in maths and science – in our classrooms.
Why not bring older teachers out of retirement? Or incentivise good teachers to delay their retirement? What are the plans to recruit expatriate South African teachers back from abroad? How about recruiting excellent teachers from countries where there is an oversupply? What are the ideas to ensure that more teachers are trained?
Nobody in the education department seems to be looking for the answers to these questions.
Finally, there is management – or the lack of it. There is an irrefutable correlation between the performance of students and how well a school is run. The problem is that many principals have abdicated the responsibility of running their schools to the South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU), and they don’t have the guts to take it back.
Minister Motshekga understands the problem of SADTU. But, because it is affiliated to the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the leadership of her party prohibits her from taking them on – even if doing so is in the interests of the children of South Africa.
A weak President, a compromised Minister and unprotected principals mean that they are not in charge. They need to be in charge.
The time has come for our government to summon up the political will to make the hard choices that will get our education system back on track. Minister Motshekga needs to start thinking about innovative solutions to our education crisis – whether SADTU likes the solutions or not. She needs to start firing incompetent officials who don’t spend their budgets. And, most of all, she needs to help principals take their schools back from those who hold the future of our children to ransom.