Thank you to The New Age (TNA) and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) for this opportunity. Since 1994, this government has always prioritised education, with resources consciously dedicated to advance the education demand in the Freedom Charter – The doors of learning and culture shall be opened!
In addition, government has mobilised education stakeholders and partners, as well as broader society, in pursuance of this noble mission of building a quality basic education system for the 21st Century. A solid foundation for giving this country and our continent an education system that’s alive to the challenges confronting developing nations in a knowledge-based global economy has been laid.
This morning, I would like to share with you where we are in this process of improving education quality in the interest of our country and people’s development goals. I will reflect on progress, challenges and priorities going-forward.
Where we are?
In our quest further to improve basic education, we needed an informed understanding of the factors that are contributing to improvement. As a sector we have a clear appreciation of the problems confronting our education system and an understanding of what is driving improvements that we desire.
South Africa’s schools today are not the same as schools we had in 2002. There’s been progress. Between 2002 and now the percentage of publicly employed educators with at least a three-year post-matric qualification increased from 80% to 96%.
Non-personnel current spending per learner quadrupled between 2000 and 2010 in real inflation-adjusted terms, allowing for more spending education resources such as learner support materials and learner support services such as school nutrition and other inputs needed for successful schooling to occur.
Very importantly, the curriculum has become clearer and more relevant over the last decade and, since the launch of Foundations for Learning, there have been a series of initiatives to set clearer standards and to monitor schools through standardised assessments, culminating in our newly introduced Annual National Assessments (ANA) programme.
How children learn is embedded in the very fabric of society. The fact that communities are talking more about what children learn at school is a welcome trend.
Poverty reduction strategies outside the ambit of education have also made a difference. In 2002, 25% of the households our learners lived in did not have electricity. By 2011, that figure had dropped to 13%. This meant an additional one and a half million learners were able to do their homework at night with the aid of an electric light.
Through our Khari kude, Abet and matric re-write programmes, more adult South Africans have become more educated over time.
Assessments: National Senior Certificate (NSC)
Ladies and gentlemen,
This important TNA Business Breakfast on Basic Education follows closely on the announcement of results of the 2012 National Senior Certificate exams (on 2 January 2013). There are gains in matric, and in the Annual National Assessments, with further evidence of improvement in TIMMS. Results over the past four years show progress.
In 2012, these gains were made across the board including in the two provinces under administration – Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.
You know by now that in 2012 more learners passed matric and the pass rate increased, with encouraging increases in learners equipped to pursue post-schooling opportunities. 377 829 learners, out of 511 152, passed matric. This is an increase of 29 712 learners on the 2011 results (348 117).
In 2009 the national average pass rate was 60.6%, in 2010 it was 67.8% and in 2011 it was 70.2%. In 2012 it was 73.9%. We achieved far in excess of a 100 000 distinctions. When I visited Gauteng during their matric results announcement, they announced that they achieved more than 35 000 distinctions in the province.
These improvements, sustained as they are, since 2009, are a clear consequence of systemic interventions for strengthening and raising performance in all levels of the system. They show we’ve turned the Titanic around.
Assessments: Annual National Assessments (ANA)
As we’ve reported, in the 2012 Annual National Assessments, involving over 7 million learners, learner performance in the Foundation Phase is pleasing and there is progress in the Intermediate Phase (Grade 4, 5 and 6).
In Grade 3, national average performance in Literacy improved from 35% to 52%, an improvement of 17%. In Grade 3 Numeracy, performance was 41%, up from 28% in 2011, an improvement of 13%. In Grade 6, the national average performance in Languages was 43% (Home Language) and 36% (First Additional Language) as compared to 28% in 2011. In Grade 6 Mathematics the average performance went down to 27% compared to 30% in 2011. Raising great concerns about the teaching of maths and science in our schools.
For the first time, in 2012 we assessed Grade 9s and this will enable us to have a benchmark through which we can be able to report progress in this phase.
In a nutshell, assessments of learner performance are driving improvement strategies at all levels – on matters ranging from provision of quality materials, infrastructure and teachers, to curriculum coverage, planning, management and support.
Assessments: Mathematics and science
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our 2013 priorities include consolidating the gains we’ve made in mathematics and science, increasing Bachelor’s passes, and a renewed focus on senior and intermediate phases, that is, Grades 4-9.
The recently released results of the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) testing for South Africa pointed to large improvements in the mathematics and science competencies of Grade 9 learners when compared to Grade 9 learners tested in 2002.
This is good news for South Africa.
South Africa’s improvement in mathematics of 67 TIMSS points between 2002 and 2011, or 7 points per year on average, is among the steepest seen by any TIMSS participant. Only Ghana has seen a steeper improvement over this period.
My analysts in the Department tell me that our improvement is comparable to that experienced in the last decade by Brazil, probably the fastest and most consistent improver in any international testing system in recent years. Similar things can be said about our science results.
Let me be clear. This good news means that the tide has turned, but it does not mean that we are seeing the results we should have in our schools as yet.
We are at last taking great strides in the right direction, but we have a long way to go. Educational improvement, we should remind ourselves, is a gradual and painstaking process. But we have made a critical start.
Importantly, we have improved our average results while improving completion of Grade 9 among young South Africans. In 2002, around 80% of young South Africans were completing Grade 9. By 2011 that figure had become 88%. So not only did our TIMSS average improve, we made sure a greater proportion of youths were included in that average.
The analysis of the TIMSS data we have so far show that our Grade 9 learning outcomes were less unequally distributed in 2011 than they were in 2002. This bodes well for a more equal South Africa. At the same time, achievement at the top end of the range did not suffer, in fact it strengthened.
That learning outcomes should at last be moving in the right direction, and strongly so, means that consistent attention to improving the quality of basic education, the first priority among government’s twelve current high-level priorities, has paid off.
The new trend we are seeing puts South Africa in a much stronger position to advance economically and socially and to realise a decent life for all, in a country that is free from the shackles of poverty.
Credit must go to government, but also to the thousands who have worked hard, and continue to work hard, to improve South Africa’s schools. Working together we can do more.
Pass requirements for matric
These positive developments render it fundamental to rebut and put to rest all myths peddled around this whole matter of promotion requirements for the National Senior Certificate. This is really a storm in a teacup.
Our papers are pitched at an international standard. We have embarked on an international evaluation of question papers in 2002, 2007 and 2010. Question papers for selected subjects were evaluated by reputable international assessment bodies, namely, Cambridge International Examinations, Scottish Qualification Authority and Board of Studies New South Wales.
Pass requirements for the NSC, introduced in 2008, are not lower than the old Senior Certificate which dates as far back as the early 1900s.
For instance, with the NSC a candidate must offer 7 subjects, not 6 like in the old system. A Higher Certificate requires a higher pass mark. A diploma allowing for entry at tertiary level requires a pass of 4 subjects at 40%, language of learning at 30% and a pass of above 331/3%.
For a bachelor’s pass, at least 4 subjects must be at 50%, language of learning 30% and others above 331/3%. In fact for 2012, the percentage of learners in the 30 – 39% level is about 1.8%. Almost 98% of our learners are above this level.
Because education is such an important service and it is important that its recipients and the general South African nation is assured and is confident about its quality, a Ministerial committee has been set up to look into this matter again and give international comparisons, to sustain confidence in our qualifications.
Related to this matter is the debate on drop-out rates. This I must emphasise. We were the first to raise this matter of learner retention and its implications for our country and its economic and social development goals.
Reports show there are fewer out-of-school children and those who have dropped out. In spite of media statements based on ‘lost learners,’ according to household surveys from Stats SA, we have 80 000 fewer children who were out of school in 2011 compared to 2009.
As government we’ll work even much harder to improve the retention and performance of children and also improve the post-compulsory schooling options available to young people.
Communities also have a big role to play in this matter because many reasons for learner drop outs are also socio economic and not educational only. They include matters such as teenage pregnancy, youth delinquency, poverty, poor parental control but also, yes, indeed academic performance where class repetitions also discourage learners from continuing with schooling.
Priorities and interventions
Our strategic interventions include a deliberate focus on improving learner performance across the system, continuing to prioritise the 3Ts – Teachers, Text and Time on task.
While we celebrate achievements, current challenges have sharpened our resolve to consolidate our advances. The building-blocks are in place and there is stability in the sector.
For 2013 going forward we will continue to focus on strategic priorities, encompassing Teacher support and development including recruitment, Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), ANA, learner support materials, and School Infrastructure, providing support to our learners with services such as nutrition, scholar transport and increasing our psycho social services to schools including promoting our learners health and well-being.
Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS)
We’re implementing the revised Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), per phase, in the General Education and Training and Further Education and Training bands. We started in Grades R, 1-3 and 10 in 2012. This year we’ve moved to Grades 4-6 and 11.
Our national strategy for improving literacy and numeracy is assisting in improving education quality. It has strengthened the teachers’ capacity to teach, in particular, the literacy and numeracy curriculum.
This year in particular, we will put more emphasis also on inclusive education, training of teachers in this area such as on Braille, sign language, and assessment interventions and support for learners with special needs.
Again chair I want to thank the many South Africans who have come forward to support us in this endeavour but also business and professional South Africa who continuously assist us and our learners with the provision of assistive devices especially for our poor learners who cannot afford these devises.
Learner Teacher Support Material (LTSM)
We’ve prioritised provision and utilisation of Learner Teacher Support Material. Last year we supplied workbooks to all learners in Grades 1 to 9. We also delivered, with the Shuttleworth Foundation, over 4 million supplementary textbooks to Grade 10 – 12 learners for Maths and Physics. From this year we will tackle the shortage of tittles for African Languages.
As part of our contribution to promoting social cohesion and inclusiveness in our society, the policy on the incremental introduction of African Languages will be piloted in all provinces to inform the implementation plan for Grade 1.
Teacher development, deployment and utilisation are also at the heart of our priorities. We want seriously to improve professionalism, teaching skills and teacher subject-knowledge.
Among other things, we will ensure that the sector corrects the Post Provisioning Norms that deal with the distribution of teachers, and other HR-related challenges to ensure there’s no class without a teacher.
On the whole, teacher development is on track. Last year we finalised a ground-breaking national partnership on teacher development. This was to consolidate our teacher development partnerships with teacher unions, launched in 2011.
We will do more to attract young, talented and appropriately trained teachers. We will pay attention to improving and enhancing teaching skills and content knowledge. We will ensure learners cover all topics as required, continue with our measures .to address teacher shortages, especially in Maths, Science, Technology and African Languages.
School infrastructure is another key priority for the sector. In December 2012, we launched the National School Build Programme under the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Committee to specifically address national backlogs in classrooms, libraries, computer labs, media centres and admin buildings while embracing long-term infrastructure planning and budgeting for education.
Under government’s Strategic Integrated Programme 13, we’re working on two national programmes. The first is a provincially driven programme with a national budget of R8.5 billion. The second is the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative. R8.2 billion is allocated to this programme of which R3.1 billion is already committed within projects being implemented.
In addition, we’ve put together a national strategy for the maintenance of public ordinary schools.
Early Childhood Development (ECD)
We’ll continue improving access to quality early childhood development. We are confident that we will achieve the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on primary education and full enrolment in Grade R by 2014.
Monitoring and support
We’ve established special teams to strengthen our monitoring and support work for provinces, including a team to audit provincial reading programmes. We will improve the capacity and outcomes of district support for schools.
Government cannot drive transformation in isolation. Working together we believe that we can do more to educate the nation. A national education partnership jointly led by civil society and government will be launched this year.
This initiative will enhance existing partnerships like the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign and the Nedlac Basic Education Accord. It will help to consolidate our work of making education a societal issue while advancing developmental goals of the New Growth Path and the National Development Plan.
In sum, the results of the Class of 2012, ANA and TIMSS (Trends in International, Mathematics and Science Study) demonstrate that the choices we have made in recent years in our education policies have, on the whole, been the right ones.
As I said when we announced the 2012 matric results, we appreciate how important, vital and precious education is and therefore continue to commit ourselves to the nation to do our utmost best for all our learners in all our schools, with your support.
The 2013 school calendar year that has gotten onto a very good start has afforded us hope of even more improvements.