SONA 2019: A tablet per pupil within 6 years, but 4 000 schools still without toilets

President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Jeffrey Abrahams, Gallo Images, file)
President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Jeffrey Abrahams, Gallo Images, file)

President Cyril Ramaphosa says he wants a tablet device for every pupil within six years, yet children in 4 000 schools across the country still use pit toilets.

Ramaphosa laid out his government's plans for the year in his 2019 State of the Nation Address on Thursday, touching on his ambitions for the basic education sector.

OVERVIEW: General praise on Ramaphosa's SONA 2019 speech

He said more than 700 000 children had accessed early childhood education in the last financial year, a sign that government had established a firm foundation for a comprehensive early childhood development programme.

Improving comprehension, therefore, was paramount in advancing the basic education sector, starting from foundation phase.

"Over the next six years, we will provide every school child in South Africa with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device," Ramaphosa said.

"We will start with those schools that have been historically most disadvantaged and are located in the poorest communities, including multi-grade, multi-phase, farm and rural schools.

'Skills for a changing world'

"Already, 90% of textbooks in high-enrollment subjects across all grades and all workbooks have been digitised."

Training for both teachers and pupils in "skills for a changing world" would also be established and expanded to include the internet of things, robotics and artificial intelligence.

Several new technology subjects and specialisations would also be introduced, including technical mathematics and sciences, maritime sciences, aviation studies, mining sciences and aquaponics.

Several ordinary public schools would also be transformed into technical high schools.

It wasn't all good news, however, as Ramaphosa said that an audit conducted last year found that nearly 4 000 schools still did not have appropriate sanitation facilities.

"The safety of our learners in school is critical for creating a healthy, learning environment.

"We recall with deep sadness the tragic deaths of Michael Komape, who drowned in a pit toilet at Mahlodumela Primary School in Limpopo in 2014, and Lumka Mkethwa, from Luna Junior Primary School in the Eastern Cape, who lost her life in March last year."

Tablets a popular idea

Given the scale and urgency of the problem, the Sanitation Appropriate for Education Initiative was launched in August last year, but has seen only 699 schools provided with safe sanitation facilities.

About 1 150 schools are either in the planning, design or construction stages. Government received pledges from business, strategic partners, and the building industry to replace all unsafe toilets in public schools as part of the project.

"We are determined to eradicate unsafe and inappropriate sanitation facilities within the next three years," Ramaphosa said.

EFF leader Julius Malema and his caucus appeared visibly miffed when Ramaphosa mooted the idea of a tablet for every pupil, moaning briefly during that portion of his speech.

Outside the House in an interview after the address, Malema told eNCA the proposal for tablets was also an EFF idea embedded in his party's manifesto, released last week.

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