Chairperson, Mr Africa Melane
Rector and Vice-Chancellor of UWC, Prof Brian O’Connell
Platinum Sponsor Representative, Mr Mandla Balisa
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you very much for the kind gesture of making all of us a part of the African Education Week 5th Annual Convention and Learning Expo. I’m delighted to be here.
This convention is indeed a fundamental contribution to education and development on the continent. This is confirmed by the level of representation here, ranging from our own teachers and academics, to accomplished scholars and policy-makers from the African continent.
By way of the 5th Annual Convention, the organisers have taken us two steps forward on the path to quality education for all.
As a teacher and a Minister of Basic Education, it feels good to be here precisely because this event, on the African continent, shows Africa’s commitment to finding African solutions for Africa’s problems.
Africa’s problems and potential are aptly captured by the theme of the convention – “Bridging the Skills Gap through Quality Education for All”.
This theme speaks to the hitherto marginalisation of our people underlying “the skills gap” that we must bridge.
It is also reflective of the potential for a new beginning, a new dawn which must be unleashed, and will be unleashed, through quality education for all.
Growth prospects and a better life for all were observed in Lions on the move: The progress and potential of African economies, published in June 2010, by the McKinsey Global Institute (p. 1). It said:
“Many of the 50-plus individual African economies face serious challenges, including poverty, disease, and high infant mortality.
“Yet Africa’s collective GDP, at $1.6 trillion in 2008, is now roughly equal to Brazil’s or Russia’s, and the continent is among the world’s most rapidly growing economic regions. This acceleration is a sign of hard-earned progress and promise.”
The report makes a strong case for Africa to bridge the skills gap. It says Africa’s labour force is expanding, that “If Africa can provide its young people with the education and skills they need, this large workforce could account for a significant share of both global consumption and production” (p. 4).
The convention’s theme is reconcilable with the overarching goal of our Department of Basic Education. It is a goal of improving the quality of basic education for better learning outcomes, for broadened access to higher education, for more skilled citizens and a much stronger economy.
“Quality”, in the context of “education for all”, means many things to many people. And interestingly, everywhere you go, everybody has something to say about education, about what needs to be done to enhance quality.
Quality is evoked in conversations on efficiency, effectiveness, equity, standards and excellence.
The basic dimensions of quality education which enjoy considerable consensus include:
- Learners who are healthy, well-nourished and ready to participate and learn, and supported in learning by their families and communities;
- Environments that are healthy, safe, protective and gender-sensitive, and providing adequate resources;
- Content that is reflected in relevant curricula and materials for the acquisition of basic skills, especially in the areas of literacy, numeracy and skills for life, and knowledge in such areas as gender, health, nutrition, HIV and AIDS prevention and peace;
- Processes through which trained teachers use child-centred teaching approaches in well-managed classrooms and schools and skilful assessment to facilitate learning and reduce disparities; and
- Outcomes that encompass knowledge, skills and attitudes, and are linked to national goals for education and active participation in society.
As I have said elsewhere, this approach to quality allows for an in depth understanding of education as a complex system embedded in a political, cultural and economic context.
This is the thinking informing the position we have taken on the imperative for quality in the Action Plan to 2014: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2025.
These five basic dimensions of quality education find expression in the six streams of the convention. This gives us assurance that our educational reform process is on track.
We trust that this convention will provide pointers to effective strategies for laying a solid foundation through quality education for future development, as required of the 1st convention stream on Basic Education. It should help us, through the 2nd stream on Further and Higher Education and Training, in creating competitive world-class institutions to equip students for the demands of the workplace.
We are grateful to the organisers for bringing us here together to interrogate these issues of quality necessary for building a better Africa and a better world.
The Action Plan, which I have been asked to also talk about, is our blueprint for turning around schooling, and for laying the foundation for advancing human resources development goals. I’m happy to talk about this Plan. We want to broaden the platform for engagement.
This Action Plan that we have put forward for the education sector, must be understood in its proper context. It is a product of careful planning and consultation aimed at consolidating and strengthening the work we have done since the 1994 democratic breakthrough.
In the last 17 years, South Africa has witnessed major policy shifts, including curriculum reform. Objective and subjective conditions have given rise to various initiatives whose end-product could be nothing less than the conscious restructuring and reprioritisation of government programmes.
One of the major steps taken has been the splitting of the Department of Education into two departments – the Department of Basic Education, which I am leading, and the Department of Higher Education and Training, under the stewardship of Minister Blade Nzimande.
The restructuring was intended to create conditions for an undivided focus on laying a solid foundation through quality basic education for future development and learning. In this way we can ascertain that all children of school-going age have access to primary education.
Broadening access is in keeping with the (1996) Constitution of the Republic which guarantees the right to education and is in pursuance of the Millennium Development Goals on education.
This means that our task, which gatherings of this nature must enrich, is to lay down solid foundations to develop core competencies, implement appropriate intervention strategies and create a conducive teaching and learning environment.
Working with education stakeholders, we plan to equip young people with the necessary knowledge, skills and values vital for bridging the skills gap and supporting the goals of South Africa’s New Growth Path.
As in many other countries, education consumes the largest chunk of the national budget. It is the apex priority of government. This significant investment in building human capital has gradually improved the country’s human resources and skills base.
The huge strides we have made must be strengthened sufficiently to meet the needs of industry and better to mitigate those challenges that were exacerbated by the recent global economic meltdown.
Our country, and many other developing countries in Africa, yearn for a growth trajectory that will help in addressing structural constraints in their economies, in expanding the industrial base and in creating decent work opportunities.
Important steps towards a shared vision for a better schooling system have been taken. In 2008, in Kliptown, the birthplace of the 1955 Freedom Charter, major stakeholders adopted the Code for Quality Education. This resulted in the launch of the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign in the same year.
We have taken decisive steps to improve teaching and learning. Among others, we have reduced the heavy administrative workload for teachers so that they can focus on the core business of teaching and learning.
As part of curriculum reform, we have completed the review of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements and will phase them in the Foundation Phase in 2012.
We have reduced the number of subjects in the Intermediate Phase, and will begin implementation of fewer subjects in Grades 4 - 6 in 2013. This means reducing the number of subjects in Grades 4 - 6, from 8 to 6. All learners whose Language of Learning and Teaching will be English from Grade 4, will be required to take English as a subject from Grade 1.
We have prioritised the establishment of a Planning & Delivery Oversight Unit to drive the achievement of top priorities for the system, ultimately impacting teaching and learning.
It is in this context that the Action Plan should be located. It is central to strengthening those areas of the education system that are vital for the fulfilment of our instruction to deliver an improved quality of basic education. It is a roadmap for addressing enrolment and learner retention, teacher quality, infrastructure, funding, learner well-being, school safety, mass literacy and equity, among others.
Our immediate priority is to ensure that, in every school, learners and teachers are in class, every day, and are on time; that learners use computers from Grade 3, and become computer literate to help us bridge the digital divide and rise above the challenges of the 21st Century.
We see the Action Plan as a tool for making the school a place where hungry learners get a decent meal. Nobody can learn on a hungry stomach. We want to create schools where learners are enabled to participate in sporting and cultural activities for improved learner development, a priority explored by this convention in the 5th stream on Sport and Recreation.
Through the Action Plan, we want to produce teachers who understand the importance of their profession in development, and who will do their utmost to give learners a good educational start in life. This year, we launched a Framework for Teacher Development and Training to reinforce our work in this area.
We want to employ and develop school principals whose priority would be to ensure that quality learning and teaching takes place, as it should, according to the national curriculum.
Such are principals well aware that their role as leaders encompasses taking responsibility for promoting harmony, safety, creativity and a sound work ethic within the school community and beyond.
Discussions are underway to review procedures for the employment of principals and to consider performance contracts for principals.
The principle underlying the Action Plan is one that says ‘education is a societal issue’. Active involvement of parents, families and communities is very key for laying the foundation for “bridging the skills gap through quality education for all.
It is this understanding that informed our decision to share with the parents, and the public, the results of the Annual National Assessments (ANA) that we administered to nearly 6 million learners in February 2011, to test literacy and numeracy skills.
The ANA results have indicated that we have to go back to the basics on the teaching of literacy and numeracy skills.
Our target, as outlined in the Action Plan, is also to ensure that learning and teaching materials are available for each learner, in each subject, in each school. This year we provided all learners from Grade R to 6 with high-quality workbooks.
Lastly, the Action Plan presents goals which outline the outputs that we want to achieve. These include the following five:
- Increasing the number of learners who pass mathematics and physical science in Grade 12;
- Increasing the number of Grade 12 learners who become eligible for a Bachelors programme at a university;
- Ensuring that all children remain effectively enrolled in school up to the year in which they turn 15.
- Improving access to quality Early Childhood Development below Grade 1; and
- Improving access to Further Education and Training beyond Grade 9.
I am confident that working together we will bridge the skills gap in South Africa and in the rest of Africa.
Working together we can deliver an improved quality of education and place the African continent firmly on a trajectory of sustainable growth and development.
The time is now! The McKinsey Global Institute has reminded us that: “Today, while Asia’s tiger economies continue to expand rapidly, we foresee the potential rise of economic lions in Africa’s future” (2010: Preface).
I wish you success in the remaining sessions of the 5th Annual Convention.
We dare not fail our people!