Equal Education media statement: SONA 2019 - our crib notes for President Cyril Ramaphosa #SONACribNotes
20 June 2019
We want to assist President Cyril Ramaphosa with keeping his priorities, and the facts, straight as he delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) this evening. Here is what he should be saying:
“The nomination for chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education will be withdrawn”
It is impossible to take seriously President Ramaphosa’s February 2019 SONA, where he emphasised the importance of prioritising education, when his Parliamentary caucus has nominated a convicted fraudster to chair the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education.
Zukisa Faku lost her job as a Member of Parliament in 2016 after being sentenced to three years’ house arrest on NINE counts of fraud! The East London Magistrate’s Court found that she had abused her position as mayor of Buffalo City Municipality in 2010, by misusing a municipal credit card to purchase perfumes, sunglasses, and other luxury items during an overseas trip.
The chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education must ensure that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) delivers its mandate and spends public funds responsibly! The appointment of Ms Faku to this position would be an insult to South Africa’s learners and teachers, and would make a mockery of legislative oversight.
President Ramaphosa must today announce the immediate withdrawal of this nomination, and the ANC caucus must nominate someone with a clean record, with the requisite experience, and who has demonstrated a deep care for South Africa’s learners and teachers, to chair this critical committee!
“An inter-ministerial committee, led by the DBE and including the Department of Social Development and the Department of Health, will be established to facilitate cooperation in addressing school violence”
Learner safety is currently particularly prominent in the public consciousness following media reports on violent incidents at schools across South Africa. Equal Education (EE) members have highlighted this since 2015 - school safety is not a new problem. But while school violence has been a persistent threat for learners and teachers, the past five SONAs have been almost completely silent on this issue!
In August 2018, the Presidency announced school safety as one of its top priorities, yet the only concrete outcome of this has been a protocol on school safety between the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the DBE. In his 2019 SONA President Ramaphosa did acknowledge that “[t]he safety of our learners in school is critical for creating a healthy, learning environment”, but was speaking about infrastructure and provided no plans to reduce violence in schools.
It is a huge oversight to identify SAPS as the sole stakeholder to assist the DBE with addressing school safety. ALL stakeholders must work together to find solutions. If the President is really serious about school safety he will announce the establishment of an inter-ministerial committee, led by the DBE and including the Department of Social Development and the Department of Health, that will facilitate cooperation in addressing school violence.
“Reporting on school infrastructure delivery will be accurate, detailed and publicly accessible”
In his 2018 SONA, President Ramaphosa boasted that 187 schools had been constructed through the Accelerated School Infrastructure Development Initiative (ASIDI) ‒ a programme meant to rapidly eradicate infrastructure backlogs. But the President embarrassingly failed to mention that the target for ASIDI was to deliver 510 schools by March 2014!
Additionally, the President said that all ASIDI targets would be met by March 2019. However, as we have highlighted, the DBE’s 2018/19 Annual Performance Plan (APP) clearly indicates that there were no such plans! To date, ASIDI has replaced 215 schools made of inappropriate material, a figure projected to be at 297 by 2021. ASIDI’s target has also been revised down from 510 schools to 483 schools.
In his February 2019 SONA, the President spoke of 699 schools which had been provided with sanitation through the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) Initiative. But to date, the President, along with Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, have failed to provide the public with a detailed report on the progress of the SAFE initiative, that can be used by learners and school communities to verify these claims and hold government accountable.
The DBE’s delay in releasing the 2019 National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) report exacerbates the problem. NEIMS is one of the only ways in which the public can receive updated national education infrastructure data. We hope that this delay is in order to improve the quality of NEIMS data, to reflect those schools that are built of inappropriate material and to reflect whether taps, toilets and other basic infrastructure is in working function.
The President must today commit to the release of a SAFE Initiative progress report that clearly outlines which schools have already benefited and those that will still benefit from the initiative. In addition, President Ramaphosa must ensure that the DBE releases the most recent NEIMS report.
“A conditional grant for scholar transport will be introduced in the next budget”
In his 2018 SONA President Ramaphosa failed to speak substantively on the provision of scholar transport, or to report on the progress of exploring the introduction of a conditional grant to fund scholar transport.
Since 2014 EE has highlighted the need to ring-fence funding for safe and reliable scholar transport for learners who need it. The President clearly does not recognise the manner in which a lack of scholar transport compromises learners’ right to basic education - particularly those in rural provinces. Thousands of learners must walk for hours to and from school, in extreme weather and along routes which make them vulnerable to violent crime.
Following our advocacy, which included submissions to various parliamentary committees, National Treasury finally conceded that a conditional grant is necessary. For nearly five years Treasury – and most recently the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation – have stated that they would look into the development of such conditional grant, but have made no progress on introducing one.
The President must announce the introduction of a conditional grant for scholar transport and outline plans to introduce this at the beginning of 2020. Government cannot continue to drag its feet.
“The on-site teacher coaching component of the Early Grade Reading Study will be expanded to at least 500 schools in each province by the end of this year”
A recent international study found that almost 80% of Grade 4 learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning. EE has repeatedly called for the expansion of the Early Grade Reading Study (EGRS). The study showed that children in primary schools where teachers were provided with on-site coaching, were likely to be 40% of a year’s worth of learning ahead, when compared to children in schools without the intervention. On-site coaching was found to be the most cost effective model with evidence of improvements in comprehension tests – an important goal for literacy.
The President, earlier this year communicated a strong commitment to prioritising the early years of learning. However, we must note our concern over the President’s focus on the expansion of reading resources only, when it is the on-site coaching model of the EGRS that had the biggest impact.
President Ramaphosa must today commit to prioritise learning in the foundation phase and announce the roll-out of the on-site teacher coaching component of the Early Grade Reading Study, to at least 500 schools in each of the nine provinces by the end of this year.
Issued by Leanne Jansen-Thomas, Equal Education Head of Communications, 20 June 2019