Run on numbers: The state of some SA schools is depressing

The Department of Education has failed its citizens due to the absence of a capable state. Picture: Independent Newspapers.

The Department of Education has failed its citizens due to the absence of a capable state. Picture: Independent Newspapers.

Published Jun 29, 2024


The Department of Education has failed its citizens due to the absence of a capable State. The Government of National Unity provides an opportunity to those who believe they can do better.

Equal Education (EE) is a youth-led mass democratic movement of learners, post-school youth, parents, teachers and community members who use mobilisation and public action, supported by careful research, to empower young activists and ensure equality in South African education.

1. In 2023, the movement celebrated its 15th year of organising. According to its website: “Over these years, we have put education on the national agenda, mobilised young people directly affected by education challenges, and become one of the leading grassroots voices on education-related matters.”

In a 2016 report on provincial schools visits, under the heading “The Absence of a Capable State”, EE states: “The findings from our school visits must be understood in the context of the political and bureaucratic issues of the Eastern Cape. The 60 schools we visited suffer in the absence of a capable state, which is a product of structural inequality, historical underdevelopment and political negotiations and compromises. The systemic failures of the Eastern Cape Department of Education are rooted in poor governance, disorganisation and incapacity, as well as a history of deliberate underdevelopment.”

2. The state of some school toilets makes one cringe with shame at the indignation that it must have caused its users. The cringe word can be explained as pulling back in fear of someone or something that seems powerful and dangerous. Any honourable politician should forfeit his or her expensive vehicle and their other outrageous fringe benefits and high salaries until these conditions have been eradicated. No party can have a manifesto that does not include pulling out all the stops, making policy, financial or resource allocations to end this disgrace to us as a nation. It must be easy for political parties to come together and resolve the most obvious of education shortcomings in the rural areas.

3. This week, the Eastern Cape Education MEC Fundile Gade, announced that the Eastern Cape government is going to move to close 1 000 schools, which are mostly situated in the rural areas. These schools will either be closed or merged with other schools in the next five years. He stated that the thousand schools to be closed are due to low pupil numbers. This takes place amid a struggle by the provincial government to deal with an infrastructure backlog amounting to billions of rand. The province's infrastructure backlog currently stands at R72 billion, according to the minister.

A primary school needs to have at least 135 pupils and a high school 200 pupils to be sustainable, and if any school is below that then it's a candidate for closure or a merger. This will have disastrous consequences as the closure of the schools will affect over 100 000 pupils in rural areas. The basic education system of the Eastern Cape was not just about infrastructure, but it also did not have a consolidated structured schooling system. The MEC said that once you have a small, unviable school system, those learners will only benefit from the progressive policies. Those learners never pass any grade, from grades R or 12. According to the MEC, the Eastern Province has more than 5 000 schools, most of them in rural areas and they have been battling to deal with the schooling infrastructure for a very long time. Problems such as pit latrines and a general lack of maintenance persist at the schools, many of the rural schools were built by the communities and they have not been maintained or upgraded.

The budget for education infrastructure is R5.6 billion for the 2024/25 financial year. The education lobby group Equal Education said the Department of Basic Education's 2023 education facility management system report indicated that of the 5 046 schools in the Eastern Cape, more than 800 have plain pit toilets and 506 were solely reliant on them. The report reveals that the province has some of the most substantial infrastructure backlogs in the country in terms of libraries and laboratories. A response to a request, made by Equal Education in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, released on August 23, indicates that 2 765 schools needed additional toilet facilities and 1 086 had inappropriate structures and 1 139 needed additional classrooms.

4. Solving the problem of sustainable schools in rural areas is not an easy exercise and would require an integrated approach. The various state entities need to resolve the conundrum. Central government and province must co-operate on finance, and the Department of Education and the Department of Transport must also contribute. The private sector can be called upon to plan the location of schools, as we cannot build as many as 1 000 schools only to close them down again and rebuild them elsewhere. There should be a data-driven solution based on the same procedures and policies utilised by companies such as Demacon, a specialist research firm with a focus on demographics, mapping (GIS) and economics, including real estate economics. Hence the acronym, De-ma-con.

5. The situation regarding education shortcomings in the Eastern Cape is not isolated to that province and a similar dysfunctional situation is prevalent in our other provinces. While we are entering a new system of governance in our country’s history, we certainly hope the various political parties will be less focused on their well-being and become “client” focused, their clients being the citizens of this country. What we have in common is far more important than that which divides us. No person of any colour or background wishes to see a continuation of what is evident in our rural school system. We must provide hope and dignity and a future for our children – we owe them.

* Corrie Kruger is an independent analyst.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.