Mud schools here to stay thanks to 'free education'

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Mud schools here to stay thanks to 'free education'

The state's funding of free higher education forced huge cuts in education infrastructure grants

Prega Govender

Government’s funding of free higher education has been blamed for the “scandalous” slashes that have been made to school infrastructure budgets.
Among the cuts is the education infrastructure grant, which is used for the maintenance of schools as well as the building of new schools across the country and which has been sliced by R10.9-billion – from R42.6-billion to R31.7-billion.
Unions say the budget-bashing move means pupils will continue to “be exposed to the appalling conditions that they have endured for quite a number of years”.
According to a 918-page Treasury document called Estimates of National Expenditure, which was released during former finance minister Malusi Gigaba’s budget last week, the Basic Education Department’s school infrastructure backlogs grant, which is targeted at replacing the remaining 296 schools that were built of mud, wood, zinc and asbestos, has been slashed by R3.6-billion over the next three years – from R7.3-billion to R3.8-billion. So far, 187 new schools have been built to replace “unsafe” schools.The department’s maths, science and technology grant will be cut by R50.5-million. The grant is aimed at increasing pupil participation and success rates in maths, science and technology.
A R117-million cut in the department’s second-chance matric programme’s budget is “expected to result in a slower expansion of the programme”, according to the document. The programme provides support to pupils who failed to meet the pass requirements of the matric exam.
The department did not respond to detailed questions.However, among the provinces already hit is the Northern Cape.
Northern Cape education department spokesperson Geoffrey van der Merwe said the planning and replacement of one of the three schools that had been built with “inappropriate material” had been scheduled for this year and the other two for next year.
“However, due to the budget cut these schools have been re-prioritised to other years.”
The schools are Eureka Intermediate School in the Pixley Ka Seme district, Hoërskool Carlton van Heerden in ZF Mgcawu district and Homevale Primary School in the Frances Baard district.
The three schools had a combined total of 3,182 pupils last year.
Van der Merwe confirmed there were 27 “inappropriate structures” in the province.
Nkosana Dolopi, deputy general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union, said the R10.9-billion cut in the education infrastructure grant was “scandalous”.
“[The budgetary cut] is a contradiction because government identifies education as an apex priority. It follows that they should be directing more resources to education.
“Cutting any cents from education is wrong and can’t be accepted. Are they saying that the conditions our children face in the townships and in rural areas should remain like that forever? It’s like it’s a curse to come from a rural area. You will be subjected to deplorable conditions as opposed to children from the suburbs.”National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa president Nkosiphendule “Star” Ntantala said they were “very concerned” about the budgetary cuts. “We are very worried that the corrupt tendencies of the members of the cabinet are now beginning to affect service delivery in the Department of Education.”
“It’s very discomforting that whilst you have, particularly in the so-called rural provinces, a huge backlog in terms of unsafe structures and schools that do not have ablution facilities, you would have a cut on the infrastructure budget.
“We are concerned that teachers and pupils are still going to be exposed to the appalling conditions that they have endured for quite a number of years.”
Roné McFarlane, deputy head of research at Equal Education, blamed the budgetary cuts on the government’s free higher education initiative to students from poor and working-class families.
“The desperately-needed investment in higher education is at the expense of basic education. The need of poor, black students has been pitted against that of poor black pupils[in schools].”
She said, however, that Equal Education had been a staunch supporter of the call for fee-free higher education.
McFarlane said the school infrastructure backlogs grant was not aimed at funding “nice to have” upgrades but at urgent infrastructure issues such as schools built entirely out of mud, wood, zinc and asbestos.
“These are issues that need urgent attention in order to avoid tragic events such as the death of Michael Komape, a boy who died after falling into a pit latrine at his school in Limpopo. It is deeply worrying that funds for this grant and the education infrastructure grant are being cut.”

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