Newsletter 264 - "Broken & Unequal" - The State of Education in South Africa - Amnesty International - PART 5

  • Clearly adequately fulfilling the right to education requires both sufficient resources and an effective means of allocating these resources to meet particular needs.
  • South Africa has historically spent relatively well on education. Yet during the last decade spending has plateaued and then fallen both as a share of public expenditure as well as a percentage of GDP. Most significantly real annual per learner spending has continued to fall year on year during the last decade as austerity budget cuts took their toll.
  • Amnesty International visited numerous schools that had insufficient resources to address even basic needs. Issues included budgets not taking constant thefts into account; budgets that are not needs-driven; insufficient additional funding from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to compensate for the lack of school fees; insufficient allocation of funds provided by the DBE for maintenance and delayed payments due to a lack of planning by the PED resulting in money running out for activities later in the year.
  • Instead of an adequately funded system that ensures that primary education should be compulsory and available free for all in line with a core human rights obligation and that concrete and targeted steps to do the same at the secondary level, South Africa chooses to persist with a different system.
  • Significant number of public schools which are still permitted to charge fees can raise additional revenue compared to those that are solely reliant on state funding which is often insufficient.
  • Our joint survey with the NASGB found that only 30% of respondents indicated that either all or most schools in their area have sufficient funding. This is often compounded by delays with 31% responding that either none or few schools in their area receive funding on time impacting their ability to adequately resource the running of the institutions.
  • However, it is not just the amount of funding that is an issue. It is the way that funds are distributed which often fails to tackle or actually in some cases reinforces South Africa’s stark inequalities.
  • Instead of reflecting the longstanding structural and demographic issues of poorer provinces the funding formula that is currently deployed often discriminates against them. For example, the two poorest provinces – Limpopo and Eastern Cape – allocated more of their equitable share to basic education than any other province in 2016/17 (50.6% and 48.6% respectively but ended up with the lowest education allocations per learner. By contrast, Western Cape and Gauteng, the two richest provinces with among the lowest proportion of their population in school, actually spent more per learner. This is a major defect of the formula and is driving and deepening inequality.
  • The Limpopo  
  • The Limpopo Department has stated that based on its current budget, it would take an estimated 14 years to replace all pit latrines in the province’s public schools.
  • For South Africa to comply with both its own constitutional and international human rights obligations with respect to education major change is needed.
  • Not only do budget cuts need to be reversed but resourcing needs to be increased incrementally at least in line with inflation but also to meet demand.
  • At the same time funding needs to be invested in a way that reduces inequalities and ensures the availability and accessibility of good quality education for all its children.
  • The government should urgently review the current system of funding education including ensuring that the equitable share formula that it takes into account (a) that it is cheaper to provide education in urban areas owing to economies of scale and population density together with a better provision of goods and services and (b) the unequal starting points of historically disadvantaged and under-funded schools.
  • The government should also set a goal of ensuring that all public primary schools move as expeditiously as possible to becoming free for users with all schools at secondary level also progressively moving to end user fees whilst ensuring that any loss of funding is met through sufficient government budgetary allocations.
  • Crucially South Africa needs to prioritise investment in order to stop missing and to actually meet its own targets on critical infrastructure.
  • The complete removal of all pit toilets must be a key priority.
  • Other key issues such as scholar transport, teacher recruitment and retention, capacity and training also need to be given urgent attention. In so doing the government can ensure that all schools including those serving the poorest communities can deliver a quality education for pupils.
  • The government should seek to do this in a way that applies its human rights obligations – both constitutional and international – as a means of monitoring progress and ensuring effective participation, transparency and accountability whilst tackling inequality and discrimination.
  • The use of human rights compliant monitoring tools that encompass appropriate indicators and benchmarks would be an important means of achieving this. Such a process could be aligned to a more comprehensive inspection system.

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