Infrastructure Investment Means More than Buildings

Wednesday, 30 June, 2010 - 09:02

Transforming the education system should be about investing in the infrastructure, creating conditions that are conducive to learning and capacitating the teachers. Parents should also be empowered in order to become actively involved in the education of their children. Government should partner with businesses to support corporate social investment initiatives. In addition, South Africa’s infrastructure projects should include the social aspects of that particular environment as project success factors, and not just a building

Part of improving the levels of quality in education and health is providing infrastructure that responds to global needs in terms of skills, technology and sports.

One of the critical success factors to the growth of the South African economy is infrastructure investment. Key areas of government expenditure, which account for more than half of the total public sector infrastructure investment and incorporate all spheres, are: provincial and local roads, bulk water infrastructure and water supply networks, energy distribution, housing, schools and clinics, business centres, sports facilities, and multi-purpose government service centres, including police stations, courts and correctional facilities.

This is still, to a large extent, catering to the basic needs of previously disadvantaged communities in rural areas and townships, which represent the majority of the population in South Africa.

South Africa, as a developing economy, needs to start responding to the pressures of being a global player by producing the highest levels of quality in education and health as one of its primary objectives. Part of improving these levels of quality is providing infrastructure that responds to global needs in terms of skills, technology, sports, etc. In the case of education, much focus has been on eradicating classrooms under trees and on providing sanitation in schools.

Through coordinated partnerships with government, business is able to offer much-needed support to this part of their corporate social investment initiatives. An example is the Anglo American Chairman’s Fund and the De Beers Fund, both in partnership with the Limpopo Department of Education through the Rural Schools Programme.

In 2009, this programme was able to provide not only classrooms but waterborne toilets, water tanks and boreholes, science laboratories, libraries, computer centres, cooking areas and administration blocks. With these facilities, children can focus on learning, teachers are afforded a good working environment and cooking for children is done in hygienic environments. The next step of the programme could be to provide actual equipment for the facilities provided i.e. computers, laboratory equipment, projectors, etc. This would ensure that even a school in the most rural part of Limpopo Province would be able to access the World Wide Web, perform experiments and embark on research projects, among other things.

However, infrastructure alone is not a complete solution without capacity-building of the teachers and parents. In most cases, a school’s success is dependent on the involvement of parents in their children’s education, as well as the ability of the education system to support the teachers.

Leadership is the single biggest success factor in a school; therefore, principals and school governing bodies need serious development interventions if South African schools are to compete at a global level. These interventions, therefore, need to be part of the deliverables when embarking on infrastructure projects. Infrastructure projects in this context should include the social aspects of that particular environment as project success factors, and not just a building.

There is still a great need to monitor these investments. Monitoring, evaluation and review will play a key role in informing the formulation of further strategies in response to the developmental needs of the South African economy. The goal in education should be to have all schools in South Africa as whole schools, where a child is able to develop academically, socially and physically in interactive classrooms, labs, lecture halls, art studios, libraries, theatre halls and sports fields.

Tshikululu’s approach to capital building projects and infrastructure investment is one of balance. We combine compassion for the dreams of the community with whom the project is undertaken, and understanding of the challenges inherent in construction. Read more about our capital projects services.

- Victor Modiba is capital projects consultant to Tshikululu Social Investments.

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