Minister Gordhan and his finance team must be commended for producing a fair budget within economically difficult times. Although South Africa may have escaped the brunt of the international recession, our economic growth is certainly not what it should be if we are to achieve our planned development goals.
As an education NGO, MIET Africa is encouraged that education continues to be one of the priority areas of government’s programme of action for 2013. Education received the lion’s share of the budget. With 12 million school children this is not surprising: investment in the future workforce of our country and has to be a priority. However, it is how the education budget is utilised (or not utilised!) that is of concern.
In his State of the Nation Address, President Zuma noted that over a third of the population is currently under the age of 15, while Minister Gordhan pointed out that a million young people leave school every year. Clearly, an educated workforce is key to the success of any country: turning education around in our country so that it produces young people with the relevant skills is therefore a non-negotiable. This requires active participation of all sectors - government, business and civil society - for as the President emphasized, it is only by working together that we will find a solution to youth unemployment.
Education addresses the wellbeing of children and youth and the economy: by investing in education, we are preparing our young people to become productive citizens. Each year attention is given to whether the number and quality of matric passes has increased, yet a startlingly low percentage of children who start school leave the system before even reaching Grade 12! In his analysis of the budget for Stanlib, Kevin Lings notes that 64% of all unemployed people do not have matric. But what is possibly even more concerning are the many unemployed youth who, often under dismal circumstances, have managed to get a matric pass.
Minister Gordhan’s announcement that a tax reduction incentive for employing youth has been tabled for consideration by Parliament is a certainly a step in the right direction. However, no details or deadlines were given; MIET Africa hopes that this is not simply an idea but something that will be acted upon.
While MIET Africa agrees that the Annual National Assessments (ANA) can be used as a tool to gauge the health of our education system, it is critical that education budgets are spent on the blockages that we are all well aware of that are preventing our children from achieving: better learning facilities, competent teachers - who are actually present in the classroom - and effective curriculum programmes. And these in addition to the myriad of socio-economic obstacles that present as barriers to learning and cannot be ignored.
As noted last year when MIET Africa applauded the commitment to job creation and expansion of employment programmes, the strategy must also consider the teaching and learning in our school system. To effectively fill the positions that will be created, a skilled and sustainable workforce is essential. Effective strategies must be put in place by government and all stakeholders to ensure that we become not only an “increasingly educated population”, but one that is effectively educated and appropriately skilled for the job market. These sentiments have not changed during the past year.
It remains to be seen how the Education Departments and other stakeholders in the education environment translate the budget allocation into actual improvement, especially in the area of infrastructure. In a country where far too many children are learning in unacceptable conditions, it is equally unacceptable that some provinces continually fail to spend their education allocation. At the beginning of this period, R7.2 billion will be given to other departments because Education Departments failed to use the money allocated for the eradication of mud hut schools and the provision of basic services. Another 98 new schools are to be built during this period, but this begs the question: How - when the schools that were supposed to be built last year, failed to materialise? As a rural-focused organisation we understand well the difficulties faced in construction in rural areas. However, these challenges are not insurmountable and ways must be found to fast-track this programme.
For the past two years, the budget speech has focussed on the issue of corruption. The Minister refers to the need to strengthen accountability, including in the education sector. Once again it is a highlight of the speech, with talk of a Chief Procurement Officer to be employed “soon”. While we support this strategy, there does not seem to be a specific timeline for this action: increased allocations mean little if monies are not spent in the right way or investment is not made in the right places. Perhaps Minister Gordhan’s suggestion of bringing South Africa in line with international anti-corruption standards needs to be seriously looked at, and a stringent monitoring strategy - which ensures enforcement of any policies - should be implemented sooner rather than later.
The challenges faced in education are immense, but not insurmountable, especially if - as Minister Gordhan once again asserted - government, the private sector and civil society work together. As an NGO working in the education environment, MIET Africa fully supports the principle of forming lasting partnerships to achieve our goals as a nation. We remain committed to cooperating in this way.
Director: Materials Development and advocacy