Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The government is investigating new funding models for school infrastructure development to cut red tape, save money, and improve the management of implementing agencies, basic education minister Angie Motshekga said on Tuesday.

Implementing agencies have been used extensively by provincial education departments due to their capacity constraints, but an analysis published in 2018 by advocacy group Equal Education found there was little oversight of the agencies and that they added considerable costs to projects.

Motshekga said her department was discussing various financing options with the National Treasury and the Development Bank of SA, including partnerships with NGOs. “The provision and maintenance of infrastructure remains one of our key priorities,” she said ahead of her budget vote debate in parliament.

The campaign launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018 to eliminate dangerous school toilets after the tragic deaths of several young children is making steady progress, and is likely to cover all the schools targeted over the next three years within the deadline, she said.

The sanitation appropriate for education (SAFE) initiative aims to eliminate hazardous and undignified school sanitation such as pit latrines by 2030, and is a partnership between the government, the UN Children’s Fund, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and the National Education Collaboration Trust. The government’s initial assessment indicated that 3,884 schools had toilets that needed to be replaced.

The SAFE campaign was launched to mobilise private sector and philanthropic investments, after the basic education department was forced cut its two key school infrastructure grants last year as a result of the government’s need to find extra funds for free higher education.

A total of 606 schools will be provided with sanitation under the SAFE initiative by the end of the 2019/2020 financial year, which ends on March 31, Motshekga said. The department also aims to complete the construction of 40 schools, provide water to 225 schools, and provide sanitation to a further 169 schools through other programmes

Motshekga said the 2018 Teaching and Learning International Study (Talis) revealed serious shortcomings in the basic education system, which need to be fixed “from the bottom”.

“Our number-one priority is to improve the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy, straddling early childhood development (ECD) to the end of Grade 6, which should be underpinned by a reading revolution.” 

To achieve that goal, the department needs to swiftly implement two years of compulsory ECD before Grade 1. This will require shifting the responsibility for ECD from the department of social development to the department of education, she said, adding that a costing plan for ECD will be finalised by the end of the financial year.

Talis found that SA had the second largest percentage of students who were being instructed in a language that was not their mother-tongue, and that the levels of violence at SA schools is among the highest of the participating countries.

The minister also announced that the Council of Education Ministers has agreed to incrementally introduce Kiswahili in schools.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za