Public-private partnerships can help expedite the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure

Private-public partnerships may significantly help implement key infrastructure projects in education.

South Africa reacted with shock to the recent death of Lumka Mketwa, a five-year old learner at Luna Primary School in Bizana in the Eastern Cape. Lumka was discovered missing when the driver of her school transport did not see her among the group he usually picks up after school. After a frantic search, she was found later that night, drowned in the pit latrine of the school.

Lumka’s death was all the more heart-rending for its circumstances, with the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, too at a loss to express her feelings about the manner of Lumka’s death.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has instructed Motshekga to provide an audit within three months of all schools that still need sanitation facilities. Lumka, apparently unsupervised, had used the school’s old, dangerous pit latrines instead of newer, better constructed ones.

Her death, following the similar tragic death of five-year old Michael Komape at his rural school in Limpopo in 2014, spotlights the urgent need to rid all schools of all pit latrines.

The province’s education spokesperson is reported to have admitted that the old toilets where Lumka drowned, should have been demolished “long ago”. Notwithstanding, no school should have pit latrines, old or new, according to South Africa’s Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.

In 2013, the Basic Education Minister signed into law the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. It specifically provides for provinces to ensure the necessary environments for quality learning and teaching to take place. Research confirms the positive correlation between infrastructure development and educational outcomes.

The law stipulates that schools must have decent toilets, electricity, water, fencing, adequate classroom numbers, libraries, laboratories and sports fields. It also states unequivocally that plain pit and bucket latrines are not allowed in schools.

The Department has also launched the Accelerated School Infrastructure Development Initiative (ASIDI), which is geared to fast track the provision of infrastructure facilities to schools across the country. However too many schools are still without these basic facilities and the majority of provincial education departments lack capacity to implement key policies such as the ‘Norms and Standards’. Money however is not the only required resource to meet this critical challenge. As evidenced by the Eastern Cape, which in two years could not spend R53-million earmarked for infrastructure, provinces lack systems and skills to execute important programmes. The allocations then have to be returned to Treasury.

Public-Private Partnerships can make the difference.  Various government departments have successfully implemented their programmes because of close working relationships with the private and civil society sectors. These sectors may bring necessary expertise and resources to accelerate and improve efficiencies within government’s protracted delivery processes.

The partnership should ensure that the skills complement those possessed by each partner and are not biased towards one stakeholder.  As such, the skills brought on board by the private sector should complement and not duplicate government’s skillset. To effectively manage and ensure accountability, the partnership must implement a governance structure that is appropriately regulated.  This structure must make sure that the arrangement is goal-oriented and make provision for the partners to conduct impact assessments that will guide the success of the partnership.  The governance structure must have stakeholder management and engagement that is conducted within an environment of honesty and trust and also enables joint decision-making.

The partnership between the Free State education department and Kagiso Shanduka Trust (KST) is a celebrated case in point.  KST itself is a partnership between Kagiso Trust and Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation (which had its genesis as Shanduka Foundation) that draws on the best practices of their respective Whole School Development programmes to create a unique district-based educational intervention in the Free State. The partnership is rooted in an integrated District Whole School Development approach to address a range of key education development needs, such as infrastructure development, curriculum support, social welfare and leadership in schools, with districts as implementing agencies.

In five years, this pioneering collaborative Trust has made a significant contribution to education delivery in the Free State. Education MEC Tate Makgoe acclaimss the partnership as the best model for optimising and leveraging public-private partnerships to drive the transformation of the education system and  improve  teaching and learning. The model is currently being rolled out in the Fezile Dabi and Motheo districts in the Free State.  All schools in these districts adhere to the minimum norms and standards as part of the District Whole School Development Programme.

The two districts were selected by the Department because most schools in the districts produced poor National Senior Certificate results. But since the partnership the schools in these districts have improved significantly. Fezile Dabi in fact was the top performing district in the country with the matric results it achieved in 2017. Education MEC Tate Makgoe has credited the two districts for catapulting the Free State province to the number one matric pass rate spot nationally.

A distinctive feature of the initiative is the development of schools’ infrastructure, which motivates good academic results. The lack of proper and quality infrastructure in most rural schools has been highlighted as one of the major contributing factors to poor learner performance. Research indicates a direct relationship between school infrastructure and educational performance, including in attendance, teacher motivation and learning results.

The provision of infrastructure in the KST model is preceded by a thorough school’s needs analysis, which determines what facilities are developed.  These may include classrooms, administration and ablution blocks, libraries, Grade R facilities, kitchens and eating areas.

Built into the initiative is the “Incentivised Infrastructure Award”, which rewards schools that have attained a 90% pass rate with computer and science laboratories, administration blocks, sporting facilities, libraries and other amenities.

KST is a public-private partnership model that produces tangible outcomes and can be replicated nationally. Such partnerships may help drive successful implementation of the Norms and Standards and holistically improve the education system. A recent Trialogue report, which tracked trends of corporate social investment (CSI) in South Africa over a decade, estimated total expenditure to be worth R8.6 billion. Of this, it reported, “education continues to receive the most support, with over 90% of companies supporting the sector in 2016”. Education clearly is a compellingly shared interest of the public and private sectors.