Like so many others, the ACDP is horrified that the budget allocation for Basic Education for 2018/19 is 2.9 percent less than last year and that grants are around R7 billion less than before.

It seems that the desperately needed investment in higher education has been at the expense of basic education - a very dangerous trade-off in the opinion of the ACDP.  While fees are seen to be a major barrier to higher education (they are not the greatest barrier); poor quality primary schooling is.

President Ramaphosa stated during his State of the Nation Address: “If we are to break the cycle of poverty, we need to educate the children of the poor”.  Surely a decline in grants which benefit poor learners in predominantly rural areas flagrantly contradicts this statement. The ACDP strongly objects to cost cutting measures affecting basic education.

The ACDP does however note the improvement in monitoring and evaluation that has assisted with more effectively targeting challenges related to performance, gaps and inefficiencies in the education system.  Signs of improved learner performance, for example, as seen in the Bachelor pass trends of the National Senior Certificate, are encouraging but we clearly have a long way to go to be where we need to be.

What does not appear to have been taken seriously are practices like irregular appointments taking place at far too many schools, Hon Minister. For the sake of quality education can we afford not to investigate the allegations of mismanagement and irregular appointments? The ACDP is appealing to you and your department to give this matter your urgent attention, starting with appointments made under the ex-Director of the Umlazi District.

The ACDP notes the committee’s concern that there is a steady increase in learner enrolement while there is a decline in the number of educator posts in schools.  Learner/teacher ratios, especially in schools with the greatest challenges, are very worrying as this will seriously negatively impact on the quality of teaching and learner outcomes. The decreased budget will only worsen this situation and undermine all other efforts. The ACDP calls on Parliament, government and especially the Treasury to ensure budgets are adjusted to provide for adequate training and more teachers where they are most needed.

Challenges in the sector with regard to inclusive education and the needs of severely disabled children are also cause for concern. Budget cuts will seriously hamper progress in this area which needs ring fenced grant allocation.  In the face of budget cuts the dire need for infrastructure, maintenance of infrastructure, and an environment conducive to learning could become far worse and not better as we would have hoped.

Early Childhood Development, thankfully, is a national priority. While it is partly in the hands and budget of Social Development, the foundation phase has a significant impact on children and their ability to cope and succeed at the level of basic education.

The ACDP is concerned that the existing ECD Maintenance Grant is not able to deal with current realities. Unregistered centres are unable to access it and it is inadequate for the maintenance needs of conditionally registered centres.

The many years when poor and under-serviced communities had to provide their own ECD services with very little help from the state have left these centres unable to meet the norms and standards required to be registered.  Not being able to register means that ECD Centre’s are unknown to the department and not part of the ‘system.’ Therefore, there can be no oversight, no child protection services, no training for the governing body and staff, no access to state subsidies, no proper nutrition, nor no money for maintenance.

The ACDP calls on the Minister to take up the issue of municipalities taking up their role as per the National Integrated ECD Policy and to call on Treasury to provide additional ring fenced MIG funding to Municipalities for ECD Centre improvements.  Unless all ECD’s are registered and benefitting from departmental oversight, training and subsidies we will fail to meet our 2030 goals.

Lastly, the ACDP calls on the department to engage with the Department of Higher Education and Training more effectively in order to better understand and address the need for learners to be better prepared for University.

The ACDP cannot support this budget; not because of the many challenges but because it is simply inadequate and the decreased budget will render the department unable to improve on the delivery of this critically important service.

NATIONAL ASSEMBLY DEBATE: Budget Vote 14: Basic Education
9 May 2018