We commend the Minister and his team on crafting a budget that seeks to ensure a better quality of life for all South Africans. We applaud his commitment to taking up the challenge to “write a new story.....one where working together we drove back unemployment and reduced economic inequality and poverty”. The Finance team has had to do this at an exceptionally challenging time. We acknowledge the difficult circumstances under which the budget was prepared while yet attempting to address the burning issues in our county.
We were heartened to hear that “investment in people is at the centre of our growth and development strategy”. However, we are concerned that not enough was said about how exactly that will be translated when it comes to the education sector. Minister Gordhan mentioned that economically, Africa is the second fastest growing region in the world and that this reflects a “youthful and increasingly educated population”. This statement must be questioned with regard to South Africa, specifically. According to the SA Institute of Race Relations, South Africa’s literacy level is “lagging behind other emerging markets even though it spends more on it”: education means little if the quality and standard is exceptionally low.
So, although the Minister has committed to increasing funds to extend the national assessments system, time will tell whether these assessments translate into improved numeracy and literacy levels - according to the 2011 Annual National Assessment results, only 12% of Grade 6 pupils scored 50% or more in the numeracy tests and about 15% scored more than 50% in language tests. If the quality of teaching and learning at school level is not strengthened, this will be a futile exercise.
A further concern is that, while we applaud the commitment to job creation and expansion of employment programmes, the strategy has to include consideration of teaching and learning in our school system, and how prepared young learners exiting it are to join the workforce. To effectively fill the positions that (it is hoped) will be created, a skilled and sustainable workforce must also be created. Effective strategies must be put in place by government and all stakeholders to ensure that we not only become an ‘increasingly educated population’, but one that is effectively educated and appropriately skilled for the job market.
MIET Africa also welcomes the continued commitment to expanding access to Grade R. We hope that this reflects less of an emphasis on matric as the measure of success in the system. MIET Africa has long held the belief that matric interventions treat symptoms not causes, and interventions should be targeted across all phases of schooling.
It remains to be seen how the education department and other stakeholders in the education environment translate the budget allocation into actual improvement, including infrastructure. In a country where far too many children are learning in unacceptable conditions, it is unacceptable that some provinces have failed to spend their education allocation.
Much comment on the budget speech has focussed on whether corruption will in fact be dealt with. After all, it was an important theme in last year’s speech as well. On paper the budget may make perfect sense - and we do applaud the increased allocation to education, especially to infrastructure - but this will mean little if monies are not spent in the right way or investment is not made in the right place.
The challenges faced are immense, but not insurmountable, especially if - as Minister Gordhan asserted - government, the private sector and civil society work together. As an NPO working in the education environment, MIET Africa fully supports the principle of forming lasting partnerships to achieve our goals as a nation. It is not only government’s responsibility to confront challenges. We remain committed to operating in this way.
Director: Knowledge Management