KZN Education MEC Peggy Nkonyeni.

Durban - A R1.8 billion increase in its budget for the 2014/15 financial year was “inadequate” to address the historical backlogs in the KwaZulu-Natal education system, MEC Peggy Nkonyeni said on Tuesday.

However, she acknowledged that the budget had grown considerably from R26bn in 2009/10 to the current R39bn.

The financial woes of the KZN Education Department are well known. It has repeatedly complained of being severely underfunded, while most of its budget goes to paying salaries.

Its infrastructure catch-up programme would be compromised, Nkonyeni warned on Tuesday.

The department is, however, forging ahead with its “transformation of the schooling system” programme, initiated by former education MEC and now KZN Premier Senzo Mchunu. The ambitious project aims to merge small, unviable schools with larger, better resourced schools, to inject more funding into technical schools and establishing maritime and agricultural schools.

The department plans to finish the construction of 20 new schools this year and to build 1 350 classrooms over the 2014/15 period. More than 300 schools will be connected to the electricity grid, and toilets will be provided to another 325.

The department also intends for a small number of KZN schools to be able to boast wi-fi.

Nkonyeni's budget was greeted with resounding support from her fellow ANC MPLs who emphasised the educational opportunities now available to children of impoverished parents, and KZN’s improved pass rate.

Responding, DA MPL Mbali Ntuli called for matric marker competency tests to be introduced and for the province to no longer be “at the mercy of Sadtu”.

Some ANC MPLs did not take kindly to this, however, saying they would not allow Sadtu to be “demonised” simply because it was affiliated to the ANC.

The Mercury