The Department of Basic Education has on Sunday dismissed a report claiming it would take nine years to eradicate mud schools in the country, calling it inaccurate, misleading and unhelpful.
A report entitled: “Mud to Bricks: A review of school Infrastructure spending and delivery” dated January 2014 was released last week.
“Some of the content is outdated and has, in fact, been overtaken by events. Most of the challenges they raise have since been addressed,” said the department in a statement.
It said authors, Carmen Abdoll and Conrad Barberton on behalf of the Centre for Child Law – University of Pretoria, did not contact the department to obtain the latest information on progress made to address school infrastructure.
“The report relied on disparate sources of data and opinion to produce an adverse finding. An engagement with the DBE and provinces could have contributed to a more balanced set of findings and recommendations,” said the department.
Minister Angie Motshekga started working on the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) concept in 2009 and sent its first concept note for the initiative to National Treasury as early as 2010. The department said it was disingenuous for the report to claim that the programme was born as a result of court action.
The capacity to manage the ASIDI programme has since been beefed up with the appointment of a Programme Manager in October 2011
Since then, 70 mud schools have been replaced in the Eastern Cape and four in the Western Cape out of the target of the target of 510 schools, including those built entirely from inappropriate material.
In the Eastern Cape alone, a further 100 schools are planned for completion in the course of the next financial year.
Nationally, the department will have completed the building of over 200 schools.
“To claim the programme will take another nine years when clear progress is being published on an on-going basis is not only mischievous but unnecessarily pessimistic,” explained the department.
Further to this, expenditure patterns have improved significantly as a result of improved planning and capacity on the programme. It has gone from R76 million in 2011/12 to R859 million in 2012/13 and to R1.358 billion in 2013/14.
The steady increase in expenditure, according to the department, is an indication of an improving performance.
ASIDI is also providing basic services to schools that previously had none. More than 200 schools nationally, have been given access to water, decent sanitation and electricity for the first time ever.
ASIDI is run by teams of competent professionals both in the programme support unit and the various implementing agents appointed to carry out the programme.
The department conceded that the programme is not without its challenges, including community related issues, work stoppages, poor contractor performance, inclement weather and even gang war fare in some sections of the country.
The department has strengthened its monitoring and oversight role, as well as early warning mechanisms.
Also, the budget for personnel has increased. An initial amount of R10 million, which was subsequently increased to R26 million in the current financial year to cater for district personnel, is allocated from the Education Infrastructure Grant to each province.
A total of 133 posts have been filled, consisting of 18 quantity surveyors, 20 architects, three electrical engineers, three civil engineers, two GIS specialists, five town and regional planners, four education infrastructure planners, 39 works inspectors and 39 infrastructure finance specialists.
The department said this initiative, together with the deployment of technical assistants in the department and in provinces, had already addressed the capacity challenges as alluded to in the report.
An update of the National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) has been completed to provide up to date information on infrastructure in schools. The provincial Education Departments are also conducting condition assessments of their schools to keep the system updated from completed projects done through the provincial infrastructure programme.
The department added that the number of mud schools targeted for eradication has always been publicly available and it was reporting on targets achieved, including individual school by school updates on an on-going basis.
The department said the conditions in some schools, together with the backlogs of essential educational spaces and services, was daunting.
“We have made no secret of it at all and are only too happy to account to the public. The Department of Basic Education will continue to replace mud schools and build new state of the art schools and hand them over to the communities.
“The department will not be distracted by the work of non-government organisations whose task is to misinform the public about the work of government for their own selfish interest.”
It said the organisation did not understand how government works and had missed an opportunity to educate the public.