Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

More than a third of state schools are still not connected to the internet, parliament heard on Tuesday.

An estimated 35.1% of state schools lack connectivity, depriving approximately 8,000 schools of all the administrative, communication and teaching resources that internet connectivity has to offer. The majority of these schools lie in rural areas.

Deputy basic education minister Enver Surty acknowledged the challenge this posed for the schools in question, and told MPs that his department had raised the issue with the presidency and the cabinet.

“The difficulty we face is that the task of connectivity does not lie in our hands, but with the department of postal services and telecommunications. We nudge them all the time,” he told members of parliament’s portfolio committee on basic education.

He told MPs that the department of basic education expected to complete the process of digitising text books and teaching materials by the end of the 2018-2019 fiscal year. 

The material was owned by the department and would be provided free to provincial education departments.

“The net effect is billions can be saved by provinces, which they can use for other purposes. But it can only be done with connectivity,” he said.

MPs also heard that barely half of government primary schools that were supposed to begin teaching African languages in 2018 had done so.

The department of basic education introduced a new policy on African languages in 2017, which aims to incrementally increase the provision of African language teaching in state schools, so that by 2029 all schools do so across all grades.

The department previously told parliament that few non-African South Africans spoke an African language, and that teaching children to reach at least conversational competency would promote social cohesion.

Only 1,375 of the 2,585 schools targeted in 2018 had actually implemented African language teaching in line with the policy, the department’s head of planning and delivery oversight unit, Palesa Tyobeka told MPs.

Provinces cited budget constraints as the main impediment to implementing the policy, she said.

Surty said the expansion of indigenous language teaching was more about political will than budget.

The Free State had reached all its target schools this year, whereas the much more affluent Western Cape had reached just 29% of its targeted schools, he said.

However documents presented to the committee show that the Western Cape reached more schools than the Free State.

The Free State target for 2018 was to teach African languages to grade 1 pupils in 136 schools, while the Western Cape was aiming for 903 schools and reached 260.

In 2019, schools are expected to expand the teaching of indigenous languages to Grade 2, and the Western Cape’s target has been reduced to 643 schools.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za