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Jun 29, 2012

School building receiving top-level attention, but details vague

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Recent high-profile media reports have exposed serious backlogs in the provision of basic educational infrastructure. One story, which featured on the front page of the Sunday Times, described how 14 teachers in Silvermine, in Limpopo province, are teaching 165 children under marula trees.

Without doubt, the problem is not one of infrastructural shortages alone. The timeous provision of textbooks remains a problem and there are also periodic reports of teachers failing to pitch up for lessons, while learners are left to their own devices. Indeed, the issue even featured in President Jacob Zuma’s February State of the Nation address, when he called on teachers to be “in school, in class, on time, teaching for at least seven hours a day”.

That said, the lack of adequate infrastructure remains a serious constraint to teaching and leading and is, at last, receiving priority and high-level attention.

Details remain vague, but it is emerging that new school construction projects, school rehabilitation and school upgrades have been placed under the centralised management of the Department of Basic Education (DBE), which will implement the national school build programme under the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Committee (PICC). It has also placed its Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative under the PICC.

“Strategic Integrated Project 13 of the PICC (the national school build programme) falls under the Minister of Basic Education. Plans are being finalised for the Minister’s approval, slated for the end of June, which is when we will provide details,” says DBE deputy director-general for planning, information and assessment Paddy Padayachee.

The Economic Development Department, the secretariat for the PICC, declined to offer detailed responses to questions about the national school build programme. However, it has confirmed that educational infrastructure is a key PICC focus.

The idea, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga says, is to ensure schools work, while pursuing a simultaneous focus on developing educators and curricula. “We continue to fast-track the provision and improvement of school infrastructure. Total spending on the adjusted budget at the end of March is R5.254-billion, or 92%. This is 12% higher than the 80% spending reported in 2010/11,” she says.

The DBE aims to eradicate 496 inappropriate structures, provide basic water to 1 257 schools, basic sanitation to 868 schools and electricity to 878 schools.

“Currently, 50 replacements for inappropriate structures are under construction and will be ready for occupation in 2013. Capacity challenges among our implementing agents and contractors have resulted in programme delays. We are compiling framework agreements that are intended to provide the sector with more implementing agents, built environment professionals and contractors,” she adds.

As a strategic integrated project (SIP), the national school build programme must adhere to a number of principles common to all SIPs. These include strategic procurement and investment that fall within a coherent planning framework, specifically the New Growth Path, which simultaneously considers the community, economy, skills development and basic needs in the pursuit of economic growth and development.

The DBE uses an infrastructure reporting model to monitor progress and expenditure on infrastructure projects, and is customising the model for specific sectors to allow for improved reporting on school infrastructure delivery, including introducing quarterly site visits to verify reports.

The department also aims to increase its capacity, which would enable it to thoroughly analyse the data reported by provincial education departments to ensure accurate reporting and, hence, delivery of the projects, adds Motshekga.

“The DBE’s procurement strategy was developed by [construction regulatory body] the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB), while the programme itself will be overseen by the DBE’s Programme Support Unit.”

Partnerships Urged
The national school build programme is a critically important programme for South Africa; however, the implementation of the projects may require private-sector partnerships owing to a lack of technical expertise in national, provincial and municipal departments, says engineering industry body Consulting Engineers South Africa (Cesa) CEO Graham Pirie.

The preparedness and capacity of government officials to effectively implement policies and applicable legislation aimed at maintaining a stable human resources and labour relations environment in the education sector remain a key barrier, admits Motshekga.

“Resolving the issue of ineffective and expensive project roll-outs requires sustained and strict leadership from the top down, which includes getting service providers, contractors and municipalities or provinces to sign explicit integrity and ethics pacts to which they must be kept,” continues Pirie.

Engineering News asked Pirie if community awareness programmes could help to improve the visibility and, hence, the delivery of projects.

“Any intervention must be founded on a community consultation process and any project must have a community awareness programme. This must be done after community consultations and a needs analysis have been completed as part of any roll-out of delivery of projects,” he says.

“However, should the programmes meet the mandatory methodologies and rules of the CIDB, then we would be satisfied,” notes Pirie.

The department claims that it aims to work closely with the private sector, higher edu- cation, nongovernmental organisations, traditional leadership, faith-based organisations and broader society. “We will be using the April 2012 National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) Accord on Basic Education and Partnership with Schools as a rallying point, as ratified by government, organised labour, business and community constituencies,” Motshekga avers.

“The commitments in this accord reflect the realisation by the nation that government alone cannot address all the challenges of the educational system and it needs to create space for social partners that want to assist in realising the central goal of improving the quality of basic education.”

Signatories must agree with the school community on the central challenge faced by the school, the key interventions and steps required to address this challenge, she notes.

Businesses, nongovernmental organisations and trade unions currently spend significant amounts of money on basic education programmes, bursaries and support. A review of the current spending by each of these sectors will aim to focus the expenditure, align it with the commitments of the Nedlac Accord, where possible, and use it to complement the efforts of government, she said.

Further, key barriers that prevent improved education delivery, as identified by the ruling African National Congress’s Education Policy Summit held in April, include the monitoring and evaluation of all officials, which involves educators, and the associated incentives regime, conditions of service and annual bargaining processes.

A lack of resources to improve, for example, education infrastructure, the capacity of governance structures, learner representative councils and school governing bodies remains problematic. The development of postprovisioning norms for the employment and deployment of educators to enable standardised levels of teaching is also a barrier, she adds.

The DBE established a Planning and Delivery Over-sight Unit in 2011 to prioritise support for underperforming districts by targeting schools. By the end of the second quarter of 2011, it had reached 4 612 schools, said Motshekga.

The unit is working with provinces to support the 18 underperforming districts in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. It is also monitoring the implementation of District Improvement and School Improvement Plans, she adds.

“To improve district support to schools further, we published the Policy on the Organisation, Roles and Responsibilities of Education Districts for comment, in March,” she notes.

“An audit process to support the functionality of teacher resource centres will be conducted in 2012/13. This will include scoping for the development of new centres. There are currently 144 teacher centres in the country,” says Motshekga.

“At national level, the DBE oversees implementation of the Integrated Strategic Planning Framework for Teacher Education and Development that we launched in April 2011. For 2012/13, provinces have set aside more than R3-billion for teacher development.”

Meanwhile, Pirie notes that Cesa has identified the National Planning Commission’s Vision 2030 as a critical element for improving infrastructure delivery.

“However, we want to issue a warning that once we have these assets, they must be maintained and delivery of these projects must be part of a packaged approach that considers the life cycle of the project and ensure maintenance throughout its life.

“Delivery [of projects] is often associated with assets quickly falling into disrepair if the infrastructure is not maintained,” he warns.

Soft and Hard Infrastructure
Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel says one of the first challenges that the SIPs will face is to develop an audit of all existing infrastructure plans. “They will face the challenge of how to integrate planning tools and infrastructure development. Planning is ‘soft infrastructure’ that must complement the ‘hard infrastructure’ of cement, bricks and tar.

“Further, there is the challenge of implementation. We are a State that has not yet resolved all the difficulties of implementation and many of our projects take inordinately long. We now have a separate programme within the State to identify the impediments to implementation,” he says.

“Must each city or region try to get top-end skills separately, or can we begin to find ways to combine our efforts for the public good?” he asks, noting that the effectiveness of SIPs will rest on the ability of different government departments to communicate and coordinate effectively.

“The New Growth Path necessitates a smoother planning vision and communication that allow universities to align skills development plans with government infrastructure goals and programmes and allow the private sector to align its investment plans with the infrastructure systems that government has in mind,” concludes Patel.

What learners, their parents and educators now require is to see practical and well-coordinated implementation at school level. Unless they do, the PICC’s promises could become yet another source of social disquiet and the basic building blocks required for transforming South African society into one that is properly equipped to deal with the challenges confronting it will remain missing.
 

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter
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