After COVID-19 budget cuts, education sector hopes for relief to resume projects
Infrastructure projects to ensure water supply and safe sanitation at schools had to be halted as government made tough decisions due to COVID-19.
JOHANNESBURG - Education specialists warn that drastic budget cuts last year will seriously hamper efforts to give learners a safe and effective education and set back long-term education goals.
Last year, government reprioritised budgets to address the COVID-19 crisis and make money available to fight the pandemic.
The worst affected department was Basic Education, which had R1.7 billion - earmarked for infrastructure projects - repurposed. That meant that almost 2,000 school infrastructure projects had to be halted.
Government was faced with some difficult choices last year when the extent of the pandemic became apparent. It had to juggle budgets to fund initiatives aimed at fighting the virus, which meant that key programmes in the education sector had to be rolled back.
Many of South Africa's schools still battle with basic services, such as clean water and safe toilets, now further exacerbated with infrastructure funding reduced.
Over R4.4 billion had to be reprioritised to ensure schools adhered to COVID-19 health protocols and spent money on decontamination, personal protective equipment and sanitiser.
Equal Education’s Jane Borman told Eyewitness News last week: “A summary of this for all provinces 168 new replacement projects, 388 upgrades and additions.”
The non-governmental organisation is concerned that despite facing funding shortfalls before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Basic Education Department has not been provided with additional funding to cope with the pandemic.
Last year May, Amnesty International South Africa said it was possible that the crisis around sanitation at South African schools was getting worse as the country focused on the coronavirus pandemic.
The month's commemorative World Toilet Day reminded South Africans of the heartbreaking story of five-year-old Michael Komape, who drowned in a pit toilet at his Limpopo primary school in 2014.
HOPES OF FINANCIAL RELIEF FROM MBOWENI
Meanwhile, the education sector is hoping for some sort of relief from Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in his national Budget Speech this week.
The Basic Education Department's Elijah Mhlanga said that they could not afford yet another budget cut.
"A cut will not be desirable. We hope that there will be an increase or a return of what has already been cut."