Creating a school environment conducive to learning

Phumla WilliamsA conducive environment is one of the key elements for learners to successfully perform at school. A properly maintained school building with necessities such as sanitation might be taken for granted, but for some South African learners the lack of these facilities keeps them from excelling and finishing school.

The National Development Plan (NDP), which is Government’s 2030 vision for South Africa sets minimum standards for school infrastructure and aims to eradicate the backlog in school infrastructure by 2016.

The Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPS), more specifically SIP13, which focuses on the National School Building programme will help us achieve this goal. This project is one of 18 Strategic Infrastructure Projects which are led by the Presidential Infrastructure Coordination Council (PICC) and chaired by President Jacob Zuma.

During the Department of Basic Education’s budget vote Minister Angie Motshekga highlighted the seriousness with which Government treats SIP13. “We have developed plans to close once and for all the chapter on ‘potholes’ and ‘hanging ceilings’ in the classrooms,” she said.

Through SIP13 Government is planning to replace 200 inappropriate schools of which 132 are in the Eastern Cape, 30 in the Free State, three in KwaZulu-Natal, three in Limpopo, five in Mpumalanga and 25 in the Western Cape. These projects will be addressed over the next few years and we are striving for 25 per cent completion by end of 2013/14.

In the new financial year, we will also provide sanitation to 873 schools, water to 448 and electricity to 369.

The end goal of SIP13 is to have safe, effective and modern schools in throughout the country. We will therefore not only replace 496 inappropriate school buildings over the next three years, but also provide schools with much needed resources such as libraries, ICT, laboratories and sports facilities.

In her budget vote, Minister Motshekga reported that the infrastructure allocation is R6,630 billion for the 2013/14 financial year. This allocation will increase to more than R10 billion over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period.

Government however acknowledges that the school build programme is not without challenges which include the liquidation of some contractors and poor performance by others. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) closely monitors and manages appointed contractors through a DBE technical unit to ensure targets are met.

In the Eastern Cape the backlog in school infrastructure is particularly acute with over 395 mud schools still in existence. This contributes to a serious dropout rate with school authorities saying it is particularly prevalent during winter periods when learners simply stay away from these schools.

To turn this situation around Government has earmarked R5,6 billion for this province. However, progress has already been made as highlighted by President Zuma during his State of the Nation Address. “With regard to social infrastructure, a total of 98 new schools will have been built by the end of March, of which more than 40 are in the Eastern Cape that are replacing mud schools,” he said.

Government is proud of the new schools, which are changing lives and fuelling the dreams of young learners. Mphathiswa Senior Primary in the Eastern Cape now boasts up to 10 modern classrooms, a computer lab, science lab, a kitchen, dedicated children's play area as well as a spacious administration building that also hosts the principal's office. This is a giant leap compared to the rundown three-roomed mud structure teachers used since moving from a nearby church building more than 10 years ago.

Mphathiswa principal Pathiwe Mvelembo is optimistic about the potential of her new modern school building. "We feel right now things are going to change. We are very fortunate because now that we have a new structure, learners are going to gather in big numbers here because we are going to meet the needs of today particularly with technology," she said.

Modern schools are vital to the future success of our children and the country. Government needs the help of all South African to revitalise our school infrastructure into centres of excellence. We urge businesses and communities to get involved with our National School Build programme to ensure we provide learners with schools that can nurture their potential.

Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)

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