Mexico

What lessons does Mexico offer SA on maximising classrooms?

High hopes: Parents queue at the Gauteng education department in a bid to secure school placements for their children. An increasing population and a shortage of classrooms means thousands of children are left out of the system. Picture: THE TIMES
High hopes: Parents queue at the Gauteng education department in a bid to secure school placements for their children. An increasing population and a shortage of classrooms means thousands of children are left out of the system. Picture: THE TIMES

During former finance minister Pravin Gordhan’s 2017 budget speech, he said: “Working with the Department of Basic Education on cost-effective standards for building design, we have reduced the average cost of new schools from R70m for 7,500m² to R34m.”

That is a considerable saving. But consider just how dramatic SA’s school backlog is and how many R34m schools need building; perhaps the scale of the task at hand begs for a new approach.

During a speech on Youth Day in 2016, President Jacob Zuma claimed that 795 schools had been built since 2009 (although Africa Check put the figure at 722).

Still, at R34m a pop — if not more — and given the time frames involved in building a new school, it is hardly surprising that demand is outstripping supply.

In a 2014 document, the Gauteng education department said that by 2020, it expected to be short of 1,373 classrooms.

In 2015, the KwaZulu-Natal education department was quoted in The Mercury newspaper as saying it needed almost 6,000 more classrooms, 3,000 libraries, 4,808 laboratories and 3,178 computer rooms. It called deadlines set by the national government, designed to eliminate the infrastructure backlogs at schools, “unrealistic”.

In Gauteng, this is exacerbated by a swelling population. A 2016 report entitled Budgets & Bricks, by Cornerstone Economic Research economist Carmen Abdoll and released under the auspices of the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria, noted that since 2009, “Gauteng’s population has grown on average by 3.72% per annum, which is the highest growth rate of the nine provinces”.

Migration into Gauteng, although unsurprising, is putting pressure on existing infrastructure and services.

The failure to plan for this surge of people resulted in 58,000 Gauteng pupils not being placed in schools at the beginning of 2017.

The number was reduced to 7,092 unplaced pupils by mid-January.

While Gauteng education department spokesman Oupa Bodibe blamed late applications, he said in a Cape Talk interview: “At the end of the day what is the issue here is that Gauteng needs to build 200 new schools. And we are building at least 10 per year.”

Rather than railing against the system, parents fall over themselves to ensure their children attend school during the designated time frame,…

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