'We don't have a magic wand'

2009-03-11 00:00

Numerous media reports have been published in The Witness recently regarding infrastructure delivery by the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education.

It would be wide off the mark for the department to dispute that there are serious backlogs when it comes to the delivery of infrastructure to our schools. We cannot turn a blind eye and pretend that these backlogs do not exist.

The department has repeatedly acknowledged this. It would be totally naïve of this department to say that all is well. Rectifying the wrongs that were committed over a period of more than 40 years will not happen overnight, unless, of course, we had a magic wand. Some would, understandably so, say that the department is beginning to sound like a broken record when citing the fact that the apartheid legacy is to blame for major backlogs in providing infrastructure for our schools.

Perhaps it would be proper and fair for the department to draw attention to certain facts.

There are certain legislative processes and procedures that need to be followed when procuring services, which include identifying the site, appointing consultants, advertising a bid, adjudication, advertising the award for appeals and awarding the contract, etc.

The department will need to have in its kitty an estimated R40 billion to clear the current infrastructure backlog. Since 2004, we have built 24 whole new schools, while 6 777 classrooms and 15 268 toilets have been constructed. We have delivered 51 school libraries, 71 computer rooms, 65 science laboratories, 57 nutrition blocks and 195 administration blocks, including principals’ offices and staff rooms. The renovation of 16 boarding facilities was started.

The recent spate of storms that ravaged our province in August, October and December last year, damaged more than 200 schools and caused a huge setback in providing infrastructure to schools.

Temporary accommodation in the form of 80 tents has been provided at the affected schools and 10 more have been purchased. Thirty mobile classrooms have been purchased and the process of purchasing an extra 40 is under way. The estimated cost of each mobile classroom is approximately R140 000.

However, concerns have been raised about the slow delivery of mobile classrooms. This delay is due to a number of reasons.

• There are only about three manufacturers of mobile classrooms in the country.

• Mobile classrooms are not readily available as they are made to order.

• A special permit needs to be obtained from traffic authorities for the transportation of mobile classrooms because they are categorised as an abnormal load. There are specific times of the day when such a load can be transported.

The issue of overcrowding in some schools has also come to the fore. It is crucial for the community and parents to work with the department so that overcrowding can be prevented.

Under pressure from parents who want their children to be admitted to a particular school, many schools end up enrolling too many pupils. This is evident in schools that are regarded as top academic achievers. The result is a very crowded school, while not far away there is often another school which has a very low enrolment rate.

There are also instances when community members will establish their own school without consulting the department. This often leads to problems with regards to the provision of infrastructure for that particular school, as well as the provision of learning and teaching material because the school was not planned for by the department. We urge the community to work with the department in this regard.

Should members of the public require information or wish to voice their concerns pertaining to infrastructure development in schools, they can contact the call centre at 0860 596 363.

• Ina Cronjé is the MEC for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education.

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