As we have become used to under Trevor Manuel and now Pravin Gordhan, the Annual Budget Speech was again an eloquent, witty and ‘proudly South African’ occasion in which a well-structured and generally responsible budget is presented. A moment’s reflection on which to be proud perhaps.
However, as an organisation working at the grassroots level of education in rural South Africa, the Anna Foundation would caution that a good speech and well-intentioned ideals in Pretoria have, as yet, not produced the kind of sustainable educational returns our country needs. Implementation of well-documented ‘action plans’ has been poor, and the government’s message is so often diluted and even muted as it travels through the bloated veins of the public sector’s Educational Department.
Although Minister Gordhan has provided inflation-level increases in educational spending, the budget does seem strongly focused on increasing the number of children in schools, infrastructure developments and university rollouts. All are tremendously valuable, however, we feel that the significant lack of quality educators as well as adult role models for children is an issue the government is not adequately addressing and it is stunting the long-term growth of our economy. On this, we would have hoped for a larger budgetary increase in continuous education and adult training expenditure to tackle these pressing issues. Rural areas in particular suffer from the growing gulf between children - eager to learn – being juxtaposed in the same household as illiterate adults.
Minister Gordhan should be commended however for mentioning the need for “improving the quality of education and training” as an essential foundation for growth, as well as the necessity for a chain of accountability “from state to classroom”. However, as the founders at Anna Foundation continuously remind our staff, implementation trumps presentation any day of the week.
Finally, we would highlight that, although the budget does re-emphasise government’s commitment to SMMEs as well of course its chief priority of education, many NGOs in the educational space – like us at the Anna Foundation – feel left in the dark as, on the one hand we receive no support or molly coddling that small for-profit business receive, yet at the same time the government is unwilling to support us in our social initiatives which form the basis of our organisations. In our opinion the government needs to champion the importance that private enterprise play in the education of both our youth and adult learners.
To conclude, we say hats-off to Minister Gordhan and his staff on a generally well-rounded National Budget. However, the key word for us and many others in the private sector remains: implementation.