South African state spending on education remains its single biggest investment, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel told Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday.
“Education spending has grown by 14 percent a year for the past three years and accounts for R140.4-billion in the spending plans of provinces and national government for 2008/09,” Manuel said during his 2009/10 Budget speech.
The government’s key priorities in education included extending the no-fee school policy from the current 40 percent to 60 percent of schools, expanding the school nutrition programme, reducing average class sizes in schools, serving lower income communities, and increasing expenditure on school buildings.
There would also be a strengthening of training colleges and a recapitalisation of technical schools over the next three years, Manuel said.
An additional R700-million would be allocated for higher education subsidies and to accommodate anticipated growth in student enrolment from 783 900 in 2008 to 836 800 by 2011.
A further R330-million would go towards to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, while funding was also available for the establishment of a new National Education Evaluation Unit, which would evaluate a new salary dispensation for teachers, linked to school and teacher performance.
President Kgalema Motlanthe, in his state of the nation address on Friday, said he was concerned at a trend of schools in rural and impoverished areas lacking infrastructure and capacity.
“Ironically, precisely where education is most needed to help break the cycle of poverty is where infrastructure, administrative and teacher capacity are least impressive,” Motlanthe said during the opening of Parliament.
The President also raised concerns about the drop-out rate, particularly at secondary and tertiary levels, and challenged the country’s education system to produce the kind of skills needed by society.
“Trends in performance, both in terms of teaching and learning, show a worrying persistence of the social divisions of the past,” he said.