Education development: Gauteng infrastructure development MEC Jacob Mamabolo handed over a state-of-the-art Soweto school earlier in 2017. Picture: SUPPLIED
Education development: Gauteng infrastructure development MEC Jacob Mamabolo handed over a state-of-the-art Soweto school earlier in 2017. Picture: SUPPLIED

The Department of Basic Education plans to close and merge more than 1,400 schools located mainly in rural areas in an attempt to rationalise resources.

In response to questions in Parliament, the department said the closures would enhance service delivery. Many of the 1,400 schools had been deemed "small and unviable".

Nationally, the eradication of inappropriate and dangerous schools has been stalled by underspending. The two main school infrastructure grants, the Education Infrastructure Grant and the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative, have failed to meet national needs and deadlines.

The National Education Policy Act Guidelines stipulate that the department has a case for closing primary schools with fewer than 135 pupils and secondary schools with fewer than 200 pupils.

KwaZulu-Natal would have the highest number of closures and mergers, with 865 schools. The province has the highest ratio of children who walk long distances to school due to a lack of facilities and transportation.

Limpopo will rationalise 476 schools but so far transport provision for only 42 schools has been made. Additional budgets would be required in all provinces for affected students travelling longer distances.

The Limpopo education department said 142 mobile classrooms would be required for a smooth transition.

On Tuesday Equal Education spokesman Tshepo Motsepe said that while there were benefits to lawful and democratic rationalisation, a key challenge remained poor communication to schools about their rights in terms of the Schools Act.

Warning against schools being merged with those that had less resources, he said if there was "a lack of co-ordination between infrastructure planning and those in charge of rationalisation, this could lead to wasted resources in schools that close with new infrastructure projects in the pipeline"."

While it is closing down unviable schools, the Gauteng department of basic education has launched an initiative to build smart schools that incorporate the latest technologies in their infrastructure.

This involves the introduction of computers, science equipment, renewable energy and upgraded sports facilities.

Fourteen schools are up for rationalisation and a three-year target has been set to refurbish the province’s dilapidated schools. A seven-year target has also been put in place to build 153 more schools.

The Gauteng government has already spent R98m on building a state-of-the-art school in Soweto, which was handed over by Gauteng infrastructure development MEC Jacob Mamabolo in March.

The problem with pushing the 21st century agenda in classrooms was that pupils were expected to be critical and creative thinkers without getting basic literacy and numeracy right, said University of Pretoria researcher and CEO of IT School Innovation Lieb Liebenberg.

He said that while a lot of schools were excited to take part in digitised learning, "basic reading and arithmetic skills are still sorely lacking in public education, which technology alone can’t fix".

gumedem@businesslive.co.za

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