‘Less bang for their buck’

By Mr Letshego Mokeki, National TISDA Coordinator, Transparency International (TI)

Following up on findings of their research report, TI is currently undertaking two campaigns in South Africa to strengthen civil society and capacity in financial management in primary education.

The research, conducted as part of the Transparency and Integrity in Service Delivery in Africa programme (TISDA) shows that good governance, and especially accountability and integrity, are critical in the delivery of basic services and learner performance in general. The South African education system has consistently failed to deliver the results. The dismal performance of Grades 3 and 6 learners in the Department of Basic Education’s Annual National Assessment (ANA) is a case in point. Only 35% of Grade 3 learners were found to be able to read and write. These results are particularly worrying given the high levels of poverty and unemployment. Furthermore, the fact that the South African government allocates the single largest portion of its budget to education, about 5 per cent of GDP in 2011, does not seem to be having the desired effect. As a group of students from Washington University put it, the South African education system is experiencing ‘less bang for their buck’.
 These results clearly show the distance that we need to travel towards the ideal of a “delivery-driven and quality education system”. The TISDA survey shows that good governance, accountability and integrity are critical in turning the poor performance of the education sector around. A recent Cabinet Lekgotla (meeting) resolved to improve ‘monitoring, support and accountability in the schooling system, including mechanisms for improved teacher accountability [...].’

It is clear that this poor accountability culture is not isolated within the education sector; in fact, many would agree that this has unfortunately become part of the social fabric of South Africa. Turning this culture around will require a hard and sustained offensive against this scourge by all stakeholders. Many good initiatives are currently being implemented by civil society, notably the recent launch of CASAC’s Red Card against Corruption Campaign and the establishment of a Cosatu-initiated Anti-Corruption Watch Unit.

The South African Government has also established a number of anti corruption units and agencies, some of which, notably the Public Protector and Special Investigations Unit (SIU), continue to do excellent work amidst an environment of intimidation and lack of adequate resourcing. Lack of coordination among these units and the independence of some continue to be a drawback to a unified and effective front against corruption in South Africa.

‘Making Integrity Ayoba’
In the words of a Mr. Duncan Hindle, the former Director General in the Department of Education, South Africa is experiencing a ‘deeply institutionalised culture of non-compliance that has been endemic in the system since before 1994’. ‘Making Integrity Ayoba (cool)’ is a campaign that aims to contribute towards the creation of a culture of integrity and accountability in everyday life among South Africans. This will be done through a variety of communication tools to reach out to learners and other education stakeholders, such as for example the creation of a dynamic cartoon character(s) that models integrity in the choices he/she makes when confronted with opportunities for corruption or behaviour inconsistent with the culture of integrity. Some of the indicators of these positive lifestyle choices and a culture of integrity are an ethos of excellence, hard work, fairness and equity.

Improving Financial Management Standards
As indicated above, the South African government spends billions on education but results and quality remain elusive. It is important then that given such huge spending, financial management systems and skills that manage such systems be managed well. Some of the problems highlighted by the TISDA findings are:

  • Only 29% of principals report receiving school budgets on time and a further 27% say they never receive them on time
  • 31% of principals say there are no sanctions in cases of non-compliance, and shockingly 61% of these principals are in Gauteng 
  • 58% per cent of the schools do not have financial staff, such as bookkeepers and clerks with financial knowledge
  • Only 50% of the principals evaluate themselves as fully skilled to handle financial management responsibilities
  • Only 50% of the educators believe that rules relating to school fees and fee exemption are respected
 TI proposes an intervention that seeks to improve financial management standards through increasing capacity to manage finances among school governing bodies’ (SGB) members, parents and district managers. It is important to include parents in this training given that building capacity of parents in addition to current SGB members ensures adequate accountability and creates a pool of prospective and prepared SGB members among parents. The current strategy is to train current members only and is therefore reactive. TI further proposes to develop an easy-to-read booklet to help school clerks (bookkeepers), SGB members and principals to manage finances and prepare adequately for auditing of books.

Transparency International believes these are some of the building blocks towards the creation of a strong civil society and a new culture of good governance, as defined by principles of accountability, transparency, participation and integrity.

To find out more, please visit our blog Mapping Transparency in Primary Education.


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