A JETStreamer Perspective on Parliament Debate of DBE Budget Vote

Just a few days before Mandela day, I had the pleasure of not just going to Parliament but being there when members of parliament participated in the debate around the Department of Basic Education budget vote for 2019/2020.

During this debate some of the challenges, as mentioned by Minister Angie Motshekga, included poor infrastructure, preparing for 4IR in South African schools, overcrowding, poor performance, high drop out rate, lack of reading for understanding, violence in schools, lack of libraries and teacher absenteeism. Tackling these challenges requires all stakeholders in and out of the education system to collaborate. The most pervasive amongst the challenges is poor learning in the foundation phase, and this, in turn, affects the progression of learners throughout the education system and including youth furthering education and transitioning to the workplace.

This was a very stimulating experience especially because South Africa is transitioning into the 4IR and we have teachers who cannot use technology. This calls for teacher training in the world of digitalisation.

The experience of how individuals from different political parties view the challenges in education and what they suggest as solutions were thrilling. An example from the debate is the issue of increasing violence in schools as expressed by Tarabella Marchesi. She stated that we need a well-capacitated education system with proper disciplinary measures and pre-emptive ways of tackling the violence that results in the death of learners and teachers in schools. She gave an example of the call centre initiative in the Western Cape which is aimed at tackling bullying, gangs and all kinds of violence in schools. It was suggested that this initiative could be spread countrywide to effectively tackle the vicious cycle of violence in South African schools.

Vuyani Pambo on the other hand made important points with regards to Early Childhood Development (ECD) education. He started off by saying that ECD education should be universalised and this means it should be accessible to all children in the country. Moreover, he stated that all ECD centres should be provided with a nutrition programme, and books should be provided to encourage early reading. He also noted that most ECD practitioners are volunteering and do not have qualifications or a stable salary. Therefore it is crucial to employ practitioners full time and ensure that they undergo training as a way of improving the services offered at ECD centres.

The experience made me realise that people can do more as a collective because each member raised specific challenges in the education space. Although some issues such as ECD education, overcrowding, infrastructure, nutrition, and reading were among some of the issues raised by almost all members of parliament. It was interesting to note which parliamentary members raised which issues. There were exceptions such as having social workers and psychologists in public schools, lack of supervision, inappropriate scholar transport, exploited teachers, and training of subject advisors.  This shows that different individuals are aware of varying issues and collaboration will allow for innovative solutioning in the education space. The Minister suggested that a partnership between DBE and DHET will be a way to support the FET phase through working together to develop materials for technical subjects and other materials such as study guides.

It is critical to tackle the challenges that hinder the performance and progression of our children in the education system. It is through this that children will be prepared for higher education and the world of work. This will only be possible when we have a strong foundation for early learning and we develop a reading culture as a nation.

By Akani Mkansi