“Education is a ladder out of poverty for millions of our people," President Jacob Zuma said during his 2014 State of the Nation Address. Many South Africans can identify with this, as a good education propelled them out of poverty into a world of possibilities.
Government spends 5 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product on education to uplift South Africans and to create a well-educated workforce. This substantial budget does not only provide our learners with quality education, but continues to redress the wrongs of apartheid.
In 1994 the first democratically elected government inherited an education system characterised by disproportionately allocated resources. This resulted in inferior education for the majority with below standard school facilities; low registration of girls for primary education; and a high learner to facility ratio.
By 2009 access to quality education had significantly improved, but some challenges remained. To better deal with outstanding issues, President Zuma announced at the beginning of his tenure that education would be a priority area for his administration.
Over the past five years, under the leadership of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, her department worked hard to reach the goals as contained in the Department’s Action Plan to 2014.
In addition, the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) was implemented over the past three years to provide teachers with a clearer specification of what should be taught on a term-by-term basis. Although the last phase of CAPS is still being implemented, it is already starting to show positive results.
In order to objectively measure progress in literacy and numeracy, government established a world-class system of nationally standardised Annual National Assessments (ANA). These assessments have now become crucial in identifying problems and guiding targeted interventions.
Today government can proudly say that our education system has improved significantly over the past five years. Probably the most notable outcome was last year’s matric results which improved from 60.6 per cent in 2009 to 78.2 per cent. In acknowledgement that our economy needs more researchers, engineers and scientists, we also achieved higher matric pass rates in science and mathematics.
Furthermore, international studies including the 2011 Trends in Mathematics and Science Studies (TIMSS) confirm that our interventions are having a positive impact, especially in crucial subjects such as maths and science. Another heartening fact is that the TIMSS showed that schools at the lower end of the performance spectrum are starting to show significant improvement.
Through our Funza Lushaka Bursary Programme, government is also recruiting well-qualified, high performing teachers to public schools. This programme has ensured a sharp increase in teacher graduates to address shortages and to improve the quality of teaching.
Over the past five years, government continued to build on the successful initiatives from previous administrations. During President Zuma’s 2014 State of the Nation Address, he elaborated on this, stating: “Eight million learners are attending no-fee schools, whereas nine million learners are getting nutritious meals at school, which are provided by government to ensure that they do not suffer from starvation and that enables them to perform well.”
We grew the number of children attending Grade R to more than 700 000 in 2011. To ensure all learners benefit from this programme by 2019, a draft Policy Framework for Universal Access to Grade R was released last year. This will ensure all learners have a solid foundation to start their education.
During the past five years, we undertook to deal with unsuitable school structures. Last year we published the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure which provides us with timeframes to eradicate infrastructure backlogs.
This is being done through the successful Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Development Initiative(ASIDI). According to President Zuma, this public-private programme has already built 370 schools. In addition, ASIDI has delivered water to 203 schools, sanitation to 226 schools and electricity to 150 schools.
One of our proudest achievements is that we have over the past five years taught three million South Africans to read through the Kha Ri Gude Mass Literacy Campaign. Most of these beneficiaries were women, persons with disabilities and people above the age of 60.
Countless successes were achieved over the past five years, but as this administration’s term ends, we acknowledge that more work remains to put us in line to reach the National Development Plan’s 2030 Vision. We need to improve access to Grade R; ensure most learners complete matric; and continue to improve literacy and numeracy competency levels.
We will not waver in our commitment to deal with outstanding challenges and work towards equipping our learners with skills that will benefit our country and economy. However, government cannot improve the country’s education outcomes alone, and therefore call on parents, schools and civil society to work with us and support our learners.
Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)