Gauteng Education MEC Panyazi Lesufi. Picture: RAYMOND PRESTON
Gauteng Education MEC Panyazi Lesufi. Picture: RAYMOND PRESTON

The Gauteng education department failed to keep the promises it made to the Constitutional Court on how much it would spend on new building new schools missing its own target of R1.7 billion by a whopping R1.3 billion.

That's the finding of a damning new research report released on the eve of the province's pupils returning to classes for another school year. It raises the spectre of many of them again failing to find a place at their chosen schools or enduring overcrowded conditions.

This week MEC for Education Panyaza Lesufi admitted that 58 000 pupils did not have places in Grade 1 and Grade 8 schools starting Wednesday‚ up from 20 000 at the beginning of 2016.

The department had also predicted in a 2014 document on school infrastructure that by 2020 the province would still be short of 1373 classrooms at existing schools.

This means that at the legal norm of 40 pupils per class‚ almost 55 000 pupils will be in over-crowded classrooms in three years' time.

The new report titled Budget and Bricks explains why the department remains short of school places.

The Centre for Child Law last year commissioned Cornerstone Economic Research to examine whether the Gauteng education department had kept the promises it had made to build more schools during a high profile court case.

In the case‚ a pupil took her fight for a Grade One place in 2011 in a Rivonia school all the way to the Constitutional Court after the school was declared full by the governing body.

The Gauteng department of education promised the Concourt that it would deal with the underlying issue in the case: of a shortage of schools. It said it would spend 40% of its infrastructure budget on new schools and claimed it had done so since 2009.

The report by economist Carmen Abdoll finds that these promises amounted to R1.7 billion on new schools over three years.

She concludes it didn't spend 40% of its budget on new schools but underspent by R1.3 billion‚ based on data in the department's annual reports.

But she also finds the department figures on infrastructure and new school spend are contradictory and unclear.

Abdoll notes that in the 2013 Gauteng annual performance plan‚ it says it spent R1.6 billion in 2012 on infrastructure. The following 2014/2015 report says it only spent R158 million in 2012 for infrastructure.

She notes the reported difference on infrastructure spending on new and existing schools in 2012 is a more than R1 billion‚ something the department has not explained.

Another problem that leads to shortage of school places is that the Gauteng department of education has since 2012 repeatedly predicted a growth in pupils of 1% a year‚ in each annual performance report.

But the census data and national education department surveys show the province is growing by at least 3% to 4%.

Abdoll writes: "One would expect the department to have taken these patterns into consideration in its planning for school infrastructure. However…. it is clear that not a lot of analysis goes into the Department's learner population projections."

Her examination of school documents finds that as early as 1998‚ the National Department of Education made laws requiring every province to list which areas were short of schools and start to build new schools or expand schools in overcrowded areas.

But it is clear that this law was not enforced by national department‚ she said.

The report reads: "It is notable that in 1998 the national government required Provincial education departments to plan for the elimination of backlogs and the provision of sufficient school places by 2008. Needless to say‚ this target was missed‚ and still has not been achieved by most provinces eight years later."

On a positive note‚ last year's medium term budget framework estimation predicts much higher spending by Gauteng on new schools with a 76% increase in spending on new schools in the 2017/18 financial year. - TMG Digital

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