‘Inept’ education bosses flayed for weaknesses

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Copy of ND MATRICS exams Courtney Africa Pupils write English paper 1 at Gardens Commercial High School in Cape Town. Picture: Courtney Africa

KwaZulu-Natal - The KwaZulu-Natal Education Department has come in for scathing criticism, with accusations that it is not getting a handle on its weaknesses 20 years into democracy.

Linda Hlongwa, chairwoman of the legislature’s education portfolio committee, said on Tuesday that the department was beset by a “laissez-faire” attitude and inept officials.

She was speaking at a meeting of the portfolio committee, where a report was presented into how well schools in KZN had run on the first day of the term.

“There are principals (who have been) in acting positions for years. The department has not learnt to resolve disputes, or to discipline (staff). It’s not rocket science. Just be pragmatic. (The department) doesn’t have people capable of running its systems. The deployment of the wrong people is the problem with the department. There’s no vision,” Hlongwa said.

Members of the portfolio committee visited schools that had problems such as poor infrastructure and lax governance, in all 12 education districts.

Hlongwa said MPLs had been “disturbed” to have teachers tell them they did not feel ready to teach the new curriculum, despite the department announcing “grand plans” for teacher training to take place at Durban’s old teacher training college, “Dokkies”.

“If officials are not under supervision… There are no consequences in this department. After 20 years, the department should know its weaknesses. It is a wounded department.”

While she did not believe in politicising education, the committee intended bringing pressure to bear by setting deadlines by which the department would have to provide a full report on each of the issues raised, Hlongwa said. It would be asked to submit short-, medium- and long-terms plans to address the problems.

“We want people to work,” Hlongwa said.

The “school functionality monitoring report” details problems which include:

- Numerous positions being vacant and the long process involved in getting substitute teachers appointed.

- Schools not having qualified maths, science and accounting teachers, or any teachers at all.

- Toilets being in a “terrible” state.

- Schools being without permanently appointed principals for years as disciplinary cases drag on.

While the report said that meals had successfully been provided to pupils as part of the government’s feeding scheme, Hlongwa said the awarding of contracts for the R1.3 billion programme had been stopped and started once too often.

Last year, a group of 82 school feeding scheme bidders launched a case against the department, saying that companies had won contracts despite irregularities.

It was one of a series of apparent administrative and management challenges that the department faced.

In July, it came to light that thousands of sick teachers were waiting for their long-term leave and retirement applications to be approved while the department continued to pay them and their substitutes.

In November, the marking of matric exams in the province was threatened after the department appointed the wrong markers and had to recall all the appointment letters.

Responding to Hlongwa’s criticism, KZN Education Department spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said that the department’s top officials had been briefed on the report produced by the MPLs, and were aware of the stance they had taken.

“We are going to turn those comments into a programme of action… It is a work in progress,” he said. - The Mercury


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