Our country’s basic education is in a state of disaster. There is an urgent need to apply pressure on those who are tasked with managing the system. 

As a society, we must now have a meaningful grasp of the political decisions made regarding education. The current state of affairs demands of us to come up with innovative methods to ensure we sharpen our focus and have a firm grip on the activities of the people who control the money spent on basic education. We must have the gumption to hold them accountable.

Methods that will make the government accountable must be applied with uncompromising vigour. If we think authorities will change their lacklustre attitude toward basic education and we treat them with kid gloves, the future of this country will be pounded mercilessly. We must identify and vigorously challenge and defeat the political forces that continue to promote inequality in our education system.

In a Mail & Guardian webinar sponsored by Amnesty International (AI), Iain Bryne, researcher and advisor at AI said: “There are clearly political problems behind the mess South African education is in. If the president was serious about fixing it, he would appoint his most competent minister with a powerful mandate to start fixing basic education. This needs to filter down to provincial governments and MECs, as there are many nuances and complications at provincial level. More attention must be paid to this level, as they spend the bulk of the country’s finances. Powerful MECs must be appointed in education as well.”

On 9 November, 2021 the Budget Justice Coalition (BJC) released a research paper on South Africa’s basic education budget. The paper, which was written by BJC members, Equal Education and the Public Service Accountability Monitor, highlighted key issues and sought Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana to take note of when he delivered the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement. 

The research paper explored the challenges that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and provincial education departments (PEDs) have with their budgets, including: 

Not getting enough money from the National Treasury. 

Not properly spending the money that they do have (under expenditure).  

Losing money by spending it in ways that are irregular, fruitless and waseful. 

It pointed out that approximately 95% of pupils in South Africa attend public schools – this means the size of the basic education budget and how effectively it is spent affects most families in South Africa. The amount of money Treasury gives to the basic education sector, determines whether:

Schools are built or repaired, schools have safe and decent toilets, and access to enough water and electricity.

Children who need it have access to transportation or a school meal.

A school has enough teachers. 

Basic education is a constitutional right that must be immediately realised. This means the national government must ensure enough money is given to the DBE and PEDs, so that all children are given the opportunity to receive an equal and quality basic education now. 

While the government has declared education as the main budget priority, it keeps making the choice to spend less and less thereof on education, despite the fact that the number of children enrolled in school has been increasing.

The research made the following recommendations:

Called on National Treasury to ensure public schools get enough money so that pupils’ right to basic education is realised. 

Called on the DBE to fight for enough funding for education budgets during pre-budget negotiations with National Treasury.

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