Eastern Cape Premier Phumulo Masualle is adamant that poor infrastructure at his province’s schools did not necessarily impede pupils’ performance.
The head of the province’s education department, Themba Kojana, last week confirmed that more than R60 billion is needed to deal with infrastructure backlogs, including repairing and rebuilding schools and installing proper toilets.
Last year the department said it needed at least R62 billion to remove all 436 mud schools in the province – the highest number in the country.
In an interview with City Press, Masualle conceded that the province still had severe infrastructure backlogs, but insisted that pupil performance was not necessarily affected by poor school infrastructure.
“Look, I have held this view for some time. If one looks at the performance of our schools – particularly quintiles one to three [no-fees schools] – there is a preoccupation with adequacy of infrastructure.
“But there is not necessarily a correlation between that and performance,” he said.
“As much as we need that infrastructure, it is not in itself a substitute for performance nor a determinant necessarily for performance.
“Within the meagre resources we have, with proper leadership in our schools, and regardless of the conditions, sometimes you have the most outstanding performances out of those schools,” he said.
Masualle said that through the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Development Initiative schools in serious disrepair were rebuilt and those made of mud, would be eradicated.
“We were having white elephants built in the name of improving infrastructure,” Masualle said.
“Similarly, we have to attend aggressively to the issue of rationalisation of our schools.
“It is important for us to deploy the available resources wisely to create sustainable infrastructure” at viable schools, he said.
Masualle said building school hostels was vital to create viable learning centres and bring together pupils dispersed in rural areas who now attend underresourced schools.
“I think it is the way to go,” he said.
“I know it is a very sensitive matter. There is a lot of association with some of these [unviable] schools even when there are no pupils because some of them were requested by, or named after, a local traditional leader,” he said.
“We have got to consolidate our schools to be functional viable schools and equip them. Yes, infrastructure is a challenge but you have to find a way around it and it is not that in itself which determines the success rate in our schools.”
Masualle said the province could not rest on its laurels following its much celebrated 5.6% increase in last year’s matric pass rate which resulted in it breaking the 70% threshold for the first time since 1994 and become the most improved province.
He said a lot still needed to be done to ensure the upward trajectory is maintained. Much of the progress, he said, should be attributed to the late education MEC Mandla Makupula.
“When you have this achievement you ask yourself, ‘how are we going to sustain this?’ I told the education department that this is a promise that has been made to the people of the province,” he said.
“The country as a whole is looking at the Eastern Cape in a different way. There is this air of expectation and we must work to live up to that.”
Masualle said last year’s matric class had given the province hope and dignity – and inspired it to achieve more.
“That means whatever we did right we have got to do more of it.
“Whatever we identify that still has gaps must be closed. And we must do so with greater intensity so that we do not fall back again,” he said.
Now it’s all systems go for this year’s academic year.
“All our schools – with perhaps an exception of a few that need to be attended to before January 20 – will have stationery, all the support materials, desks, and whatever else they need. Also, teachers are there so learning and teaching will take place almost immediately.”
He said near the top of the to-do list is to rationalise unviable schools.
“Accompanying that is the consolidation of the bigger schools and giving them all the necessary support immediately,” he said