Angie Motshekga: We’re building a school a week

2013-12-01 14:00

Every week since July, the department of basic education has been handing over a school to communities in Eastern Cape.

This represents a revolutionary change of fortunes for thousands of learners in a region that is beset by poverty.

But let’s start at the beginning. The people of Eastern Cape were denied education facilities by the apartheid regime as punishment for their relentless stand against oppression.

Not to be denied, hundreds of individuals, mostly women, rose to the challenge and approached their communities asking them to build schools, which they did using the limited resources at their disposal.

The results were mud schools – a proud effort by a dispossessed people at ensuring an education and a future for their children.

In 2009, the department made a submission to the Treasury to address the infrastructure backlog in education. Approval and, crucially, a budget, were obtained the following year.

The accelerated schools infrastructure delivery initiative (Asidi), with a mandate to replace schools built from inappropriate material (mud, planks and asbestos) was born. Inappropriate schools were found across the country but the bulk of the challenge was in Eastern Cape.

A total of R8.2?billion is allocated to the programme, of which R3.1?billion has been committed within the programmes being implemented through an expanded range of agents.

At the beginning, the department, staffed with ex-teachers and administrators, struggled to kick-start the project. It was at this juncture that the department decided to bring in a programme manager, a qualified engineer, to run with the project.

It was discovered that the province offered a formidable challenge to suppliers and contractors alike.

The state of the roads meant that many a supplier could not deliver stock to sites, preferring to decant it as far as the road would allow, usually a few kilometres from the sites. This resulted in double handling for contractors.

In addition, inclement weather during rainy seasons not only stopped work on site for health and safety reasons, it delayed the resumption of the work by rendering the roads unnavigable for days on end.

Then we had the spectre of poor performance by some contractors, which resulted in contract termination and the consequent steps taken in measuring the work done.

Before we knew it, we were behind by a year.

Today, however, out of an initial batch of 49 schools earmarked for completion in 2012, the department is happy to note that 40 schools, and counting, have reached practical completion.

The construction of the second batch of schools has started and the lessons learnt in the first phase are now being applied.

A key demand for me has been that learning is not disrupted during construction and so learners either use existing mud, planks or asbestos facilities, or are moved into temporary classrooms.

However, such is the journey of the people of Eastern Cape that this particular chapter cannot be complete until the new school is handed over to the community.

The schools, in addition to ordinary classrooms come with, among other things, a science lab, a computer lab with 27 laptops, a library, a nutrition centre, a multipurpose centre and decent sanitation facilities.

For a school to qualify for Asidi assistance, it must have a minimum enrolment of 135 learners, but the initiative is not only about building schools.

Close to a thousand schools elsewhere in the country were denied proper toilets, and access to water and electricity. The initiative has been correcting this injustice and continues to meet its annual targets in this regard.

»?Motshekga is minister of basic education

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