November 2016

Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre compiled this shadow report in response to the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE) Annual Report for the 2015/2016 period. It is our view that the Annual Report lacks sufficient detail to be of use to the public, and avoids serious discussion of some of the most crucial and difficult topics impacting South Africa’s basic education system.

This analysis responds to three areas in particular, which EE has campaigned and engaged on, namely school infrastructure, scholar transport, and the section 100 intervention in the Eastern Cape.[1]

 

  1. School Infrastructure

Minister Motshekga and Deputy Minister Surty’s foreword to the DBE’s Annual Report notes: “At present, our major weakness is the absence of norms and standards for some of the services we provide and inability to monitor compliance with norms and standards where they exist.” Yet Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure, the most significant legally binding commitment the DBE has made to build and fix schools, receives only one mention by name in the entire 308 page document!

Targets and deadlines

In terms of the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure, all schools must be provided with water, electricity and sanitation, and all schools made of inappropriate materials must be replaced, by 29 November 2016. There is no mention in the Annual Report of the deadline or whether it will be met. Elsewhere, the DBE has acknowledged the deadline will not be met, incorrectly and unconstitutionally framing the norms and standards not as binding obligations but as a set of targets needed to “jolt” the department into action! It is a gross oversight for the Annual Report not to discuss the DBE’s failure to meet the Norms and Standards deadline, or to provide an updated timeframe for meeting this target.

The Annual Report states that targets for infrastructure provision have been met: 99% of schools have access to sanitation, 98% of schools have a water supply, and 96% of schools have an electricity supply. With a staggering 23 595 public schools in South Africa, these figures are misleading.

These percentages speak to the overall situation in the education sector, rather than progress specifically made this year. While they tell a good story, the report fails to provide details relating to how many schools were planned to be fixed, and how many actually were fixed in the last year. In fact, significant backlogs remain: As of June 2016, there were 171 schools with no water, 68 with no sanitation, and 569 with no electricity. The percentages also do not reveal the extent to which thousands of schools suffer from partial, but inadequate, provision of basic services: 5 004 schools have an unreliable water supply, 4 986 schools have only pit latrines and 2 923 schools have an unreliable electricity supply.

 

Further, the provision of basic services in schools is not the only Norms and Standards deadline that should have targets attached to it. The Annual Report is silent on targets relating to the state’s obligation to eradicate inappropriate school structures.

 

Questionable Data

The lack of infrastructure targets and deadlines contained in the Annual Report indicate a larger problem: the National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) reports do not contain any data on the number of schools made of mud, wood, asbestos or zinc around the country. The absence of this data hinders efforts to hold government accountable.

We are told that the NEIMS database is updated daily with new school-level data. But the Annual Report lists only 408 schools as having been “captured, verified and approved” on NEIMS for the entire year in question. Although this is unclear, it may mean that only the data for these 408 schools has been updated on NEIMS, out of all schools across the country. This is only a few schools compared to the national total, meaning the data for the majority of schools is out of date. It may also be the case that this small sample is then scaled across all schools. However, this would not be useful for planning purposes as it would only produce an estimate of backlogs, and would not identify which schools were in need.

In addition, the Annual Report does not interrogate a growing trend in recent NEIMS reports, where increasing numbers of schools are classified as having ‘unreliable’ supplies of water or electricity rather than none at all. For example, in the last three years, the number of schools that have no water has decreased by 1601. Alone, this statistic is promising. However, in the same three-year time frame, the number of schools that have an unreliable water supply has increased by 2350.

Taken together, these concerns suggest that NEIMS data may be out of date, that the classification criteria may have changed, or that service provision is of poor quality. The lack of clarity regarding NEIMS classification, sampling and updating methodology does not inspire confidence in the reliability of its figures.

 

Infrastructure Spending

Infrastructure is funded through two programmes; the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) and the Schools Infrastructure Backlogs Grant, better known as ASIDI (Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative).

The EIG is a ring-fenced grant given to provinces by National Treasury, and which must be spent on school infrastructure. The grant performed well by spending 100% of its budget. Yet, there are a number of gaps in the Annual Report’s information on the grant:

  • There is no mention of whether it would achieve the targets set out in the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure, or how many of the infrastructure projects underway address the said requirements.
  • There is no separation of expenditure between provision of new infrastructure and maintenance projects.
  • Incredibly, the reporting of 100% spending makes no mention of the R530 million that went unspent by the Eastern Cape Education Department, and which was subsequently transferred to three other provinces. An overview of provincial infrastructure performance is glaringly missing from the Annual Report.

The ASIDI grant did not perform well: R558 million went unspent of its 2015/16 allocation, and large amounts of money were used for non-ASIDI purposes. An amount of R99.788 million was used to purchase furniture for non-ASIDI schools. Under spending of the grant was used to justify the re-directing of ASIDI funds to build at least two libraries in each of the nine provinces. Libraries are important, but ASIDI provides targeted relief to the most desperate schools, and should be spent as allocated to ensure all learners are taught in school buildings which do not threaten their health and/or safety, and with adequate basic services provided.

Infrastructure Provision

The report of the Auditor-General, attached to the Annual Report, is revealing. It found inadequate oversight on financial and performance reporting in infrastructure provision, stating that “the department’s oversight was ineffective to detect non-compliance by implementing agents.” This may go some way to explaining the mess of conflicting numbers in the Annual Report. It is also a key obstacle to successful infrastructure provision.

The total infrastructure provision achieved in the education sector for 2015/16 reads impressively. The report states “In terms of infrastructure provision in 2015/16, 570 026 units of furniture were delivered; 412 schools were provided with sanitation; 605 schools were provided with water; 163 inappropriate school buildings were replaced; and 294 schools were provided with electricity.”

The Annual Report however does not state how this was achieved – through which funding sources they were built, and in which provinces.

Table 1 compares the DBE’s infrastructure provision claims with the above mentioned EIG and ASIDI grants, which should together contribute to the total DBE figures. However, they do not match up. The discrepancy in figures is not accounted for.

Table 2 puts side by side the figures from the 2015/2016 Annual Report and the NEIMS figures from May 2015 to June 2016 figures. Despite the difference in the time period between the Annual Report and NEIMS, there should have been some similarity between the two figures.

DBE claimed totals (p14) ASIDI (p111) EIG (p151)
Sanitation provision 412 21 1610
Water provision 605 81 622
Electricity provision 294 2 138
Inappropriate buildings replaced 163 51 100

Table 1

 

DBE claimed totals (p14) NEIMS May 2015 – June 2016
Sanitation provision 412 60
Water provision 605 281
Electricity provision 294 344
Inappropriate buildings replaced 163

Table 2

The overall picture presented by the DBE shows that progress has been made, but the figures include some cases of shockingly slow service delivery:

  • ASIDI, the DBE’s flagship programme for quickly eliminating the worst-off schools, only provided two schools with electricity and 21 schools with sanitation in 2015/16!
  • The figures are not delineated by province, and thus the overall picture obscures poor provincial performance such as the Eastern Cape Department of Education only building three schools of a planned 24, in 2015/16.

There are inconsistencies in the figures presented in Table 1. The total schools provided with electricity by ASIDI and the EIG come to 140, but the Annual Report claims 294 overall. Under which programme did the additional 154 schools fall?

Conversely, the number of schools provided with sanitation by ASIDI and the EIG together comes to 1631, but the cumulative total is listed at just 412 schools. There is no adequate explanation for this. The DBE claim 1542 schools were upgraded from having only pit latrines but this figure does not provide any answers to how the DBE reached the cumulative figures of 412, or the figures provided under ASIDI and EIG.

The NEIMS data reveals more about how service delivery has taken place. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of schools with pit latrines decreased by 1216, while the number of schools with only pit latrines decreased by 1797. This means that in 581 schools, upgrades are only partial: pit latrines continue to be used alongside other forms of sanitation. The danger with this is that partial provision of decent sanitation should not be claimed as a complete victory by government. It may also be a pretext for allowing the remaining pit latrines to fall into disrepair, which can have deadly consequences.

Further, that there are schools with no form of sanitation while other schools with pit latrines are being upgraded is not in line with the Norms and Standards. Pit latrines are unacceptable and should be replaced, but the Norms and Standards rightly demands that schools with no sanitation be prioritised. This prioritisation does not seem to have happened.

Capacity Building

The Annual Report positively notes that the DBE helped fill 231 provincial posts in built environment and finance directorates to speed up infrastructure delivery. In the previous year’s Annual Report, 153 infrastructure posts were filled out of 218 advertised vacancies. This suggests high staff turnover. Staff, in particular skilled staff with institutional memory, are necessary for implementing infrastructure rollout and retaining skilled staff should be a priority.

 

  1. Scholar Transport

The DBE’s Annual Report provides very little information on the provision of scholar transport in South Africa. The most useful information that the DBE provides on scholar transport states:

“A total of 371 422 learners were targeted to be transported, against 516 886 that required transport. By the end of February 2016, 386 448 learners were transported, 104% of the target. Overall expenditure at the end of February was at 50%, excluding invoices that still had to be processed.”

While it is commendable that the DBE reached 104% of its target, 130 438 learners are still currently in need of learner transport across South Africa! The Annual Report fails to explain why around 25% of learners in need of transport were not accommodated.

The Annual Report neglects to account for scholar transport provincially or to highlight the extreme differences in need between provinces. For example, while some provinces may have a smaller need for scholar transport, the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department revealed in its 2015/2016 Annual Report that 73 000 learners are still in need of subsidised learner transport which require concerted efforts to address these needs.

The Annual Report speaks very generally to the issue of scholar transport as a whole, and fails to indicate the scholar transport systems in place by the DBE, such as how many learners were transported via dedicated learner transport and how many learners were transported through other transport schemes such as public transport subsidies. In addition, there is a lack of budgetary information, and it is not evident how much money was spent on the administration of scholar transport, and how funds have been distributed provincially.

Scholar transport falls under “Programme Four”, in which the DBE focuses on the promotion of quality and effective service delivery in the education system through monitoring and evaluation, planning, and assessments. Specific information concerning the strategic objectives, performance indicators, actual achievements in 2014/2015, deviations from planned targets, or reasons for any variations, which is provided for other topics also falling under “Programme Four” in the Annual Report, is not provided for the topic of scholar transport. Unfortunately this is in line with the failure to prioritise the safe travel of learners to and from school.

The Annual Report correctly states that the Learner Transport Policy was published – it was finalised on 23 October 2015. It also states that the implementation plan in line with the Learner Transport Policy is being finalised. However, it crucially fails to provide information concerning the timeframes and process towards finalisation. This failure echoes some of the concerns we have already raised around the shortcomings in the policy.

As a result of minimal feedback, the Annual Report is not an effective means by which the public can compare and interrogate the DBE’s performance on the provision of scholar transport, and investigate its reasons for variances.

 

  1. Section 100 in the Eastern Cape

The complex saga that is the section 100(1)(b) intervention in the Eastern Cape once again regrettably receives minimal discussion.

Section 100 is an extreme Constitutional measure by which national government can step in to support a failing provincial department, in this case the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE). It is thus fair to expect that such a major intervention would receive substantial discussion in the Annual Report. However, it is almost impossible to ascertain what is being done in terms of the intervention: the Annual Report merely states that in terms of section 100, “the Department will continue to monitor and evaluate, and provide the requisite support to these two provinces [Eastern Cape and Limpopo], and any other province where a need has been determined.”

While the Eastern Cape intervention began in 2011, it has dragged on with little achieved. The ECDOE continues to be plagued by shortages of leadership and technical personnel, corruption and factionalism, and there are major failings in provision of scholar transport, school infrastructure and educator post distribution. Minister Motshekga has twice this year asserted that the intervention remains in place, but this was recently contradicted by a judge of the Grahamstown High Court who ruled that it had in fact lapsed in 2014!

If Minister Motshekga was aware of this, she has misled the public gravely. If she was misadvised, this highlights the uncertain legal basis for when, and how, a section 100 intervention may be withdrawn. It is for this reason that EE and the EELC have recommended to the Joint Constitutional Review Committee that section 100 of the Constitution be amended to provide greater clarity and to require government to pass further legislation which will better regulate the intervention process.

The Intergovernmental Monitoring, Support and Interventions Bill has repeatedly been promised by government to meet this need of a regulatory framework for section 100 interventions, but to this date no such bill has been made public.

EE and the EELC’s submissions around section 100 are available here.

Conclusion

The DBE’s Annual Report for 2015/2016 presents some positive findings, as is to be expected. However its reporting is generalised and does not provide details by which the public can hold the DBE to account, rendering it of little use. More specifically, the Annual Report remains silent on a number of important issues such as the setting of targets to ensure it reaches Norms and Standards deadlines.

The Annual Report is therefore a missed opportunity to have an honest engagement with Parliament, and South Africans at large, about the work government is doing, and the challenges they are facing.

[1] It should be clear that these are not the only areas in Basic Education which are cause for serious concern: the quality of school nutrition programmes, school level corruption, health and safety of learners including corporal punishment and sexual violence at schools all deserve attention. EE and the EELC have however chosen to focus on areas in which we have campaigned, to speak from our own knowledge of the sector in order to highlight the point that this is a missed opportunity for honesty and real engagement.