Prioritise education Mr Finance Minister

Kagiso Trust Chairperson Mankone Ntsaba expresses her views on how the Finance Ministers’ budget speech neglected education.

Our education system is as much a threat to South Africa’s future as Eskom and the country’s debt

The Minister of Finance delivered his annual budget speech in Cape Town on February 22. While the speech addressed many critical issues affecting South Africa, it was concerning that it paid little attention to one of the country’s most significant threats – the failing education system and the budget allocated for 2023/24 to aid this.

The budget speech recognised the dire energy crises faced within the country through the debt-relief arrangement for Eskom.

We are fully aware of the knock-on effect of load-shedding across all the sectors. However, what was not given enough recognition is that our education system is as much a threat to South Africa’s future as Eskom and the country’s enormous debt.

Across the country, the education system, especially in rural areas, is struggling, with many children receiving inadequate education in poorly equipped schools that lack basic infrastructure.  What makes it worse is that this situation is not new, and it is not improving. Millions of South African learners, teachers, and communities lack resources and support to prepare children for a future that requires meaningful contributions for economic growth.

In 2022, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga indicated that 1 423 schools still had pit latrines. As recently as 2021, there was no reliable electricity in 3 343 of 23 276 schools, while 5 836 had intermittent water access. It was also reported that just 20% of schools do not have a laboratory and only 42% can boast about a computer centre, while 30% of schools have a library.

During 2022, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) developed a draft Education Bill that called for input and comment, before being finalised. One of the thorny issues in the Bill was the proposed removal of deadlines on the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure.  The current policy imposes deadlines for improvements to the infrastructure at schools, such as electricity, water, classrooms, fences and libraries. These deadlines also cover the eradication of pit latrines. Urgent improvements to school infrastructure remain a non-negotiable concern that calls for higher budget allocations.

The Centre for Risk Analysis reported that of the 1,074,788 children who started grade two in 2012, just 580,555 passed with a senior certificate in 2022. That represents an actual matric pass rate of around 54%. This percentage is the conversation we expect to be mentioned in the country’s budget plans for education. With all the budget challenges mentioned herein, some positive developments in the budget were comforting to hear addressed, such as an increase in the national school nutrition programme and additional funding for Early Childhood Development (ECD). At Kagiso, ECD forms a vital part of our District Whole Schools Development Programme. This is vital to overcome the gaps in the education of our children, to prepare them for school by ensuring learning outcomes, class-appropriate competencies and childhood cognitive development are built early.

While we look forward to an increase in funding for ECD, the various challenges previously mentioned show the reality that there is still much more to be done to really change the current reality of our education.

Despite our efforts and those of many organisations and individuals who contribute and collaborate to improve the challenges within the education system, it also takes support and financial input from the government to make a long-term sustainable impact. And so, we put to question, is R293.7-billion enough to tackle all the challenges within basic education?

The 2023 budget represents a 2.5% nominal increase. However, when factoring in inflation, this amounts to a 2.4% reduction in education funding in real terms. Funding per learner was therefore reduced from R22,552 in 2022/23 to R21,630 in 2023/24.

While we are advocating for a budget increase, we recognise the additional obstacles the education system faces in terms of budget management, including instances of underspending and misallocation of funds.

To ensure the effective use and management of the budget, it is necessary to allocate funds towards intervention strategies that involve monitoring and evaluating infrastructure, as well as following up on implemented measures. This will prevent infrastructural collapse and mitigate cases of budget underspending, such as the Limpopo Department of Education’s staggering underspending of R523.3-million, Western Cape’s underspending of R556 million and Eastern Cape’s underspending of funds given to them for the Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG). It is essential to prioritise infrastructure monitoring to avoid costly reconstruction from scratch.

We are currently faced with circumstances where students at Lamulelani High School must learn under a tree near Hazyview, Mpumalanga and be taught in classrooms that leak during bad weather due to large parts of the school having burnt down in a community protest in 2017. To date, the school is yet to be rebuilt by the department of education.

In addition to addressing infrastructure, intervention strategies should also consider the numerous other educational challenges the system is facing affecting productivity, such as overcrowded classrooms, the need for more teacher training and development and the increasingly high drop-out rates of students to name a few. With so many challenges, it is important to explore solutions that ensure the retention of teachers and learners in the long-term.

The budget speech also mentioned that eradicating poverty and inequality is as urgent today as it was at the dawn of our democracy nearly 30 years ago. One of the steps towards achieving this is acknowledging the severity of poverty and inequality within the education system. The next step is to prioritise the problem and budget accordingly to improve the unequal divide within the sector.

We urge the South African government to prioritise education and allocate the necessary resources to ensure that every child in the country has access to quality education. It should also be mentioned that such budgets must be utilised according to plan, to avoid underspending while there is such so much need for the funds. A threat to the education system will have dire consequences for the country’s future economic growth and development.

Kagiso Trust work to overcome poverty by developing and implementing scalable, replicable, sustainable development programme models in the areas of education development, socio-economic development, local governance support, civil society support and financial sustainability. For more information see