Equalizing the playing field

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

By Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga

It is no secret that the education system in South Africa has a long history of discrimination and inequality. In the early days of our new democracy this was identified as one of the biggest challenges and the first area to address. It was done so by my predecessors with huge success. The doors of education were opened to all South African children with basic education being declared a right to all. To this effect we now have universal access to education with a single curriculum, and no child is discriminated against by being denied access to basic education.

However, infrastructure has remained a challenge that distinguishes learners along geographical, economic and to some extent racial lines determined by the Apartheid system. The former model C or former white schools had all the resources needed to deliver a world class education, but those in rural or township schools struggled to compete. Provinces found it challenging to not only build new schools to meet the growing demand for increased access to education but also to equip these schools with all the resources needed to create a conducive environment for teaching and learning.

The need for a drastic school infrastructure plan to overhaul the system and level the playing field was desperately needed. This came to fruition with the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), it was the broadest step yet towards the eradication of mud schools and improper structures in the country.

The first batch of 49 schools was completed in October 2012 and President Jacob Zuma handed over the first of the ASIDI schools. These are not just schools to the communities they serve; attending the handing over of these schools is an emotional experience because these schools are hope. They herald a brighter future for the communities they are located in, and stand out as giant centres of learning in a landscape of humble homesteads, rolling hills and small gravel roads in the rural Eastern Cape. Some handed over in the Western Cape are safe havens in troubled communities of sprawling grey urban flats where gang violence is rampant - these schools give learners the opportunity to envision a different future beyond the confines of their immediate environment.

A mere three years later, we are preparing to hand over the 100th school in Kroonstad in the Free State as part of the ASIDI programme which seeks to provide dignity to learners and teachers by creating a conducive teaching and learning environment. ASIDI is probably the most ambitious programme that promises to change the face of school infrastructure in South Africa and by so doing change lives. It's also the first programme of its kind to bring together government and private financial institutions in a deal that aims to eradicate all mud schools and inappropriate structures by the end of 2015. We are on course to achieve that milestone.

We’ve made a promise to South Africans that we will not rest until all learners are able to go to school in an enabling environment that promotes a culture of learning as we strive to improve the quality of our education system. We believe that one of the best ways of dismantling the cycle of poverty is to ensure the right to a quality education is enjoyed by all South African children and the best place to start in achieving this goal is to ensure they have access to enabling school infrastructure. Thus ensuring we can be sure to set the country’s economy on a path to prosperity.

We are handing over the Dorrington Matsepe Primary School later this month as part of the R8.2-billion ASIDI programme and we have decided to name the 100th school after Dorrington Matsepe, the father of the late Communications Minister, Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri.

The school was established in 1992 and started with 500 learners and 15 educators. Currently the school has 1 100 learners.

It is built next to Troubou, a township with many parents who are not working.

Most learners at the school are orphans and despite these challenges, the school is performing well in the Annual National Assessments (ANA) and that in 2014, the school achieved a bronze in Mathematics (60-69%) and became one of the 50 top schools in the province.

These are the kind of success stories that I feel should be told, and it is our belief that the refurbishment of this school will further improve its performance even further.  

In the Eastern Cape alone, some 52 schools have been handed over thus far and a total of 80 now completed to replace mud schools.

In the Western Cape, we have 25 schools (11 already handed over under ASIDI) that are part of the ASIDI programme, but if we factor in schools that the provincial department will also build as part of its own contribution, a total of 33 schools will be built.

Ten other schools will be built in the Free State, others in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.

Communities who have already received these schools have commented to me that these are not just schools, they are like universities, they are equipped with science laboratories, media centres which include a library and computer facilities which learners previously never had access to. We are equipping learners to be globally competitive and again working towards levelling the playing field for the South African child.

Our aim is not just to hand over schools, but to provide the added touch of quality infrastructure that learners from disadvantaged backgrounds did not previously have. We also want you to see synergy in infrastructure planning between national and provincial education departments.

We have delivered schools infrastructure that most schools previously did not have. The opening of the 100th school since we launched our ASIDI programme should serve as a motivation for all of us to do more. Our ultimate goal is to have all schools in South Africa as whole schools - where a child is able to develop academically, socially and physically in interactive classrooms equipped with state-of-the-art computers, laboratories and dedicated teachers. All the schools we build far exceed the minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure. The biggest challenge we face is maintenance where schools have been built. This is where communities must play their part to protect these facilities for the benefit of future generations.

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