Education to focus on infrastructure shortfalls

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Parliament - Lack of education infrastructure in rural areas, which President Kgalema Motlanthe has described as a concern, will be a focal point of the Department of Education over the next five years.

The Minister of Education Naledi Pandor announced this on Monday following President Motlanthe's State of the Nation Address, in which he said that precisely where education was most needed to help break the cycle of poverty was where infrastructure, administrative and teacher capacity are least impressive.

Minister Pandor said: "It's our aim to tackle infrastructural inadequacies, national, provincial and district education incompetence, and teacher incapacity over the next five years.

"The President's conclusion on the education sector 'school report' was clearly - [we] could do much better - especially with the challenge of breaking the cycle of poverty and inequality," the minister said.

Mr Motlanthe was to the point when outlining the successes in education which included a drop in the educator: learner ratio; almost universal access in terms of enrolment at primary school level; and an improvement in the number of pupils passing mathematics.

Provinces have reported to the minister that there are no school classes taking place under trees anymore, and that schools are continuing to be built along with mobile school facilities whenever shortages or disasters have struck.

The President in his address on Friday further said future focus would fall on improving the drop-out rate at secondary and tertiary levels, addressing the shortage of skills needed by society, and paying greater attention to eroding the legacy of under-performance in rural schools.

Despite the challenges in South Africa's education system, the minister highlighted that colleges and universities were still offering South African students great opportunities and that Further Education and Training (FET) colleges were offered to students for free.

"There is over a R100 million for college bursaries each year. Our policy of expanding access to study at higher education institutions has been successful in attracting first-generation black and female students into higher education.

"Support has been provided to parents and extended families that cannot afford university fees.

"Universities make bursaries available and the state provides support through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)," Ms Pandor said.

In 2004 the NSFAS allocation was R578 million, and in 2008 the NSFAS allocation to universities was R1.3 billion while a further R433 million was added from recovered funds to bring the NSFAS budget to over R1.8 billion, the minister said.

In 2007 her department allocated R120 million for teacher bursaries, and R100 million for FET college bursaries. Government has supported about 480 000 students to date.