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A Discussion on School Infrastructure and its impact on Matric Results By Suzanne Edmunds – CEO of PROJECT BUILD TRUST

5 April, 2016

I would like to join the discussion on the Matric results in my professional capacity as the CEO of Project Build Trust a Not for Profit, that builds schools with donor funding.
As the outset I am not looking to lay blame but simply to state some facts. We are not an advocacy organization, but simply an NGO which likes to meet its mandate of building school rooms.
Project Build Trust, has been developing school infrastructure here in KZN for nearly 40 years – in which time we have built up an understanding of the problems related to infrastructure facilities at schools and their impact on academic results.
In Thursday’s Mercury Mrs Caluza of Sadtu and young highly successful learner Mkhosi Xulu of Bizimali High School in Nkandla speak to the facts when they talk of the awful conditions in which learners struggle to learn and educators struggle to teach. The best of educators cannot work in classrooms where numbers are anything from 60 to 110 young people. Learners sit 3 to a bench in the heat or the cold. For learners it is also close to impossible. Fortunately for the very brightest they can overcome these odds, but most young people are average just trying to do the best they can, just needing attention from the educator . For the educator it is impossible to give this attention in such overcrowded dreary conditions. During the course of my work I visit many schools, mainly in disadvantaged areas. Please note I don’t use that awful term “PDI – previously disadvantaged” as most of the schools we see are still in a very bad place. What we see is good principals and staff struggling against the awful odds of poor infrastructure. Overcrowding is just one aspect. Toilet facilities are abysmal, unhealthy and unsafe. Society cries for ECD (early childhood education). For ECD to be successful it needs purpose build facilities. Little ones have completely different needs from their older counterparts. I’m not even going to venture into shortages in libraries, laboratories, sports facilities. These are important subjects for another article.
I hope to prove that poor infrastructure is a fundamental matter that needs to be addressed if education is to be improved . Fortunately in our work we have many donors who understand that without an educated workforce there cannot be a successful society. These donors are the charitable trusts the large corporates, medium and small companies who are part of a responsible civil society who recognize the value of building classrooms.
In our penultimate annual review Mr Moses Mogambery then Chief Education Specialist for Curriculum wrote an essay on the importance of good infrastructure in the school system and its impact on learners and educators. In this he makes reference to studies which bear out his argument. . The first by entitled Do K-12 School facilities affect Education Outcomes ? by Ed Young, 2003 published the results of about 3 decades of research in a few states in the United States. The reports makes the point that there is growing evidence of a correlation between the adequacy of a school facility and student behaviour and performance. Two interesting facts emerged:
• Students attending school in newer and better facilities score five to seventeen points higher on standardized tests than those attending in substandard buildings
• The quality of the learning environment was found to affect teacher behaviour and attitudes towards remaining in the profession
Mr Mogambery inter alia writes “The infrastructure inadequacies in the South African schooling system are well documented both in the media as well in government reports.
It is well know that the majority of SA learners perform poorly in national and internal tests in numeracy and literacy. There is a vast disparity in the educational performance in the exit level examinations between learners in rural and urban schools as well as between Public and Independent schools. In most instances, the infrastructure inadequacies are glaringly evident in poorly performing schools”
I end by saying that unless the fundamentals of good schools infrastructure are attended to the problem of education for the general learning population particularly in the rural areas will not be solved. As this is in the main a rural problem simply not a major issue for former house of delegate or model C schools and to a large extent township schools, it is so seldom factored into the conversation when problems in education are discussed. It also significantly affects the apparent results of KZN given that we are the largest “rural “ province in the Country.
I do not decry the wonderful work of NGOs and others in the area of whole school development, teacher education, additional learner education. But please don’t leave infrastructure out of the equation if you wish to solve the problems holistically.
Given who we Project Build are, an NGO quietly going about our work, we would welcome expressions of interest from those in our society who would like to join us in our good work in investing in good education.

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