Chairperson, members, guests, the different MECs that are here, the leadership of different political organisations, ladies and gentlemen, I'll be speaking on behalf of Basic Education and Higher Education and Training. Chair, I would like to thank you again for giving us an opportunity as the Education department to come here to give our budget speech today. The Minister of Higher Education and Training and I have agreed to share our Budget Votes because he is remaining in Cabinet to represent us.
Today, I speak to present to you, hon members, the collective thoughts and ideas on how we intend to reposition the education sector to meet our desired mandate of providing quality education for all. Over the weekend an intensive two-day review process of the education landscape was held jointly with MECs from provinces and the senior leadership of the department, as part of our broad strategic positioning of the department as we prepare to embark on a new road as the Ministry of Basic Education. We also had an opportunity to review, critique and analyse our responsibilities. I can report that we all jointly agree that our point of departure is that indeed our sector requires us to work differently to achieve different outcomes. We agree that we cannot continue working the same way and expect different outcomes.
I don't think there is doubt in anyone's mind that indeed our education system has achieved much. We can report - and proudly report - that much progress has been made in moving the system away from the precepts of apartheid education. Under this government, more children attend school and more attend without the burden of school fees. More children participate in school nutrition programmes and in an expanded curriculum. More teachers and principals are exposed to in-service development than ever before. And more provision has been made to improve the infrastructure of schooling, especially in rural and poor areas.
But we also are convinced that massive challenges still remain for those who are very committed. The theme of my speech today is: "Together - achieving quality education and access for all". In presenting this budget I therefore draw on the manifesto of the ruling party, as informed by its resolutions from its Polokwane conference, the Medium-Term Strategic Framework and the President's state of the nation address.
In the past 15 years of democratic rule there have been significant challenges and these are even testified to by independent analysts. A recent report by the South African Child Gauge has noted that we have achieved universal primary education in line with the medium-term development goal. We have also achieved gender parity in education. More children, as I have said, are staying in school until matric. It is estimated that about 85% of children now receive 12 years of education. We are, therefore, taking steps informed by this very basic and sound foundation.
But, again, if we are to make true the instructions of the President that teachers are to be in class and on time, and learners are to be in class studying, a number of things have to be put right. The approach that we are taking this year is informed also by the belief that together we can do more and that we need to make education a societal matter.
One of the professors who was commissioned by my predecessor to look at the challenges of education found that throughout the country, in every province in which the committee had been, from government officials to unionists and teachers, there were the strongest expressions of concern, often in very passionate terms, about an indisputable challenge in education and that it needed to be resolved. But this does not mean that there are no pockets of excellence in the system. The problem is that you cannot improve a whole system on the basis of exceptions. Exceptions or normality or functionality should be a major part of your education system and not an exception. Some of the challenges that confront us relate to issues like accountability.
We also noted with concern over the weekend that one of the weakest factors affecting our system is that accountability in the system is very limited in scope and very uneven. The accountability system is weak because of a pervasive culture of resistance to strong measures of accountability within schools, and not only amongst teachers, but throughout the entire system.
So, we are convinced that if we have to change our education system, there must be consequences for every action in the system. Everybody has to account for the work that they do - teachers have to be on time, learners have to be studying. Everyone has to make sure that when the teacher is in class on time, everything is in place for that teacher to work effectively.
We are also committing ourselves to addressing issues like the curriculum. We are getting lots of reports that there are challenges with regard to our curriculum. I have set up a committee which, starting from July until September, will be looking at all the issues which have been raised about our curriculum, making sure that, come 2010, we have addressed all the issues that have been raised by communities.
There are issues regarding resources which we hope that our budget will address. Historically, there are well-resourced schools and provinces that are better able to support the education system and produce better educational outcomes. This is a major challenge. Despite the fact that we say this government has invested acceptable levels of resources in education, their proper utilisation sometimes continues to be a challenge and we need to find a way of ensuring that there is value for money in terms of all the resources invested by government.
I have referred to the curriculum and have also committed our government to looking at all the different challenges which have been raised with us around the curriculum. We have also identified issues of systematic challenges in our system where, in addition to accountability, there is a general culture of dysfunctionality which also plagues our schools: books not arriving on time, desks not being available, and overcrowding in classrooms. And, again, we are committed to confronting that with our colleagues.
I quickly want to run through the figures before my time runs out because yesterday I had a very bad experience as I ran out of time and couldn't finish. So, I want to deal with the figures now to make sure that I don't run out of time and can focus on the figures that we have indeed been given.
As regards the budget allocations for the financial year 2009-10, I can record with appreciation that the overall budget has increased by R2,4 billion, rising from R18,5 billion last year to R21,2 billion. Additional funds have been received this year for the following priorities. For higher education - as I said, I am speaking for both basic education and higher education - we have been given about R480 million.
For school nutrition we have received R577 million and, again, we are excited about this, because it will enable us to extend our school nutrition programme to the poorest of the poor at high school level. In the past we could provide food to primary schools only, but now with this increase in budget we are able to start introducing a school nutrition programme at high school level.
As the department is working on separating further education and training, FET, colleges from basic schools, we have been given R5 million to start a process of capitalising our technical schools to compensate for the loss of the FET colleges or the training that would have been done through the FET colleges. So, we have been given R5 million.
Again, the department has also been given an additional R6 million this year to prepare for the establishment of the National Education Evaluation and Development Unit, Needu. We are very excited about this because, again, the unit will enable us to detect or to monitor and evaluate our system on an ongoing basis. Earlier in my speech I said that we were also aware that there were systemic collapses or problems in the system, and through Needu we are confident that, at an early stage, we will be alerted to challenges and confront them. So, we have been given R6 million this year, which will increase in the outer years, to enable us to start with the work.
The department has been allocated an additional R63 million for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, NSFAS. I know the Minister of Higher Education and Training is very excited about this. He is very passionate that poor children not be excluded from higher education because they cannot afford it. So, again, we have been given this money to increase this budget.
We have been given R443 million for the mass literacy campaign. This will assist us in what we have always committed ourselves to as the education sector: that when we come into government we want to break the back of illiteracy, which we have inherited from the past. This money is going to enable us to address our mass literacy programmes.
We have been given R5 million for systemic evaluation programmes and for the further development of information management systems. Again, Chair, you would agree with me that it is very important in education to have a very sound information system which will help us not only to track our learners, but also to have the necessary information at hand.
Some of the existing programmes in the budget deserve special mention. One of these is, as I said, the National School Nutrition Programme, which in addition to feeding 7,4 million children, will be able to feed more children in high school. Our budget for the National School Nutrition Programme has increased to R2,3 billion through which we give conditional grants to provinces. We monitor these quite tightly and work very closely with provinces to make sure that every child who deserves to eat at school is able to eat on a daily basis.
We have been given R177 million, which will be used by provinces to provide relevant life-skills programmes in all schools. We are of the view that the decline in infections amongst young people, reported by the Department of Health, has been made possible by this life-skills programme. We are very excited about receiving this money and are committed to working with our children on questions of lifestyles, sexuality, and HIV and Aids. We are, though, quite concerned about the increasing numbers of teenage pregnancies in our schools, and we hope that through this fund we will begin to develop a programme to address this.
There is also the threat that as a country we are losing a number of teachers. So, we are quite excited that, again this year, we have been given R700 million to support 9 000 young people who are training to be teachers. This bursary has helped a lot in making sure that we can stabilise our demand for recruits in education.
I am pleased to record that, together with the teacher unions and other stakeholders, we have launched what we call the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign, of which a major part relates to the non-negotiables for different components of the system. For teachers, this involves being in class, on time and teaching, while learners have committed to focusing on learning, to respecting their teachers, and to doing their work.
Departmental officials have been made to make commitments, and they have promised to visit schools regularly and to provide them with support. We have also received pledges from parents who have volunteered to ensure that they play their part and make sure that there is oversight and monitoring of everybody in doing their work.
We believe that these non-negotiables require two pillars of support. The first of these is Needu, which we have spoken about, that will help us to evaluate and develop the system on an ongoing basis. This also relates to effective leadership in our schools. I don't want to go into examples of different forms ...
Your time thing is intimidating me. It was better in the House because there was no clock facing you. [Laughter.] So, let me go back, Chair, because this watch is really intimidating me.
These non-negotiables require two pillars of support. The first of these is Needu, which will evaluate all parts of the system to unearth constraints and problems in ensuring quality education. The other pillar is that of effective school leadership, a key component of the system.
All the evidence, locally and internationally, shows that a good school has a good principal. You will have heard that the President has committed himself to meeting school principals. The message is a crucial one in the transformation and development of education, and the department will do all it can to support this meeting. The meeting has been scheduled for 7 August 2009 in KwaZulu-Natal.
One key area of focus will be the rural schools and poor schools in our country. We will be working not just on infrastructure but on all different support mechanisms we think necessary. Infrastructure in rural and poor areas remains a challenge, and we will be looking at innovative funding approaches to ensure that we deliver decent schools in the shortest possible time.
We have seen how the country, with the 2010 preparations, has been able to deliver stadiums. We are going to persuade the government to do the same thing with school infrastructure: to use the same approach, look for fresh money - wherever they got the money from for the stadiums - and put it into education if we are all to say that indeed education is a priority.
All these examples of priorities and the rest are elaborated on in the strategic plan. We urge members to note the work we will be doing in regard to the recapitalisation of our technical schools and different work ...
I can see that my time is up. So, let me stop myself, Chair. Thanks.