Address by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor MP, at the Eastern Cape Provincial Education Summit.
13 March 2009
I’ve long been concerned about the quality of education in our schools.
This is not a hobby horse that I have been riding on my own for the last five years. Internationally there is increasing concern about quality and standards. However, here in South Africa we have come to these issues a little later than other countries.
Poor performance, or performance that has not improved over many years, has led to the most substantial education reforms in the past. I think in particular of the quality improvement acts passed in the US and the literacy strategies introduced in the UK.
The watch words are accountability, standards, and testing. One of the most important things we have lacked in South Africa is due attention to these key features of education.
It’s vital for South African education to develop agreed measures and criteria for accountability.
Our new education policy and practice is based on accountability and the ability to act on accountability requirements.
We’ve approached the issues with careful circumspection and wide consultation. In a context in which there is ineffective system response on core obligations, it is very important to isolate those attributes that are necessary for system efficiency and responsiveness and to isolate and attend to the failings that lead to underperformance or inadequacy.
This summit offers the Eastern Cape an opportunity to carry out an honest and frank analysis of what works and what does not.
All of you gathered in this meeting are fully aware of the fact that there are no quick fixes in education. Education change requires vigour, professional action on the results of diagnostic analysis and the commitment of time and resources to achieving success.
There is a national consensus that there is underperformance in school education. The system requires attention from grade R to grade 12. This province has failed to improve learner achievement for several years. This is despite improved investment in education and increased resourcing to address inequality.
We know that systems thrive on order and discipline. The Eastern Cape stakeholders present today have to, at a minimum, agree to a cessation of combat in order to allow for the creation of a platform for entrenching routine and orderly administration.
The 2008 NSC outcomes signaled the need for focused attention on reversing mediocrity and entrenching quality and excellence.
The information provided by the NSC report on the Eastern Cape is a good basis from which to begin the development of coherent co-coordinated responses.
There are districts that achieve above provincial average success rates. We know what makes those districts successful.
It is important that we begin focusing on preparing for success from the early grades.
It’s impossible to achieve sustained success at grade 12, if we continue to have primary schools that do not teach reading, writing and numeracy.
Our foundations for learning campaign emphasizes the teaching of reading, writing and arithmetic.
Acquiring these skills does not contradict the key objectives of outcomes based education.
Our national teaching and learning campaign, which we have all committed to, is part of the new framework.
We need to ensure quality teaching and learning by getting teaching and learning right.
Our reforms over the past ten years have been around establishing an equitable framework for education in all its aspects and in providing access to schooling for all.
Our current commitment to our children and their parents is to improve the performance of our schools in general and the achievement of our learners in maths, science and technology.
Our aim has been to level the playing field in terms of teachers and resources after generations not to say centuries of inequality. Our aim is to provide better access to equivalent learning opportunities for rich and poor.
Yet the evidence that poverty undermines education is overwhelming.
I believe – I do - that schools can make a difference to disadvantage and that they can overcome patterns of inherited poverty.
We celebrate those schools in rural areas where the results are above expectation and resources are poor.
Our priority in transformation was and is to pursue equality.
As part of the negotiated settlement our schools were given wide powers of self-government in relation to the admission of pupils, the choice of language, the hiring of teachers, and the charging of school fees.
We took the view at the beginning of democracy that allowing public schools to charge fees was necessary in order to support the redistribution of public funds to poor schools.
Yet it has only been since 2006 that we have been able to begin abolishing school fees in our poorest schools.
It’s now time for us to focus on improving the learning achievement of our pupils.
The Ministerial Committee on Schools that Work, which I appointed in 2007, emphasised the important role that teachers play in achieving quality in education.
The simple point it made is that well qualified teachers, arriving on time, of sober mind and body, well prepared for their lessons and teaching for the duration of the school day make schools work.
Does this happen here in the Eastern Cape? No it does not.
Where do we look for an explanation or a justification of this failure?
We don’t have to look far.
The lack of consistent political and administrative educational oversight has had a devastating impact on schooling in this province.
There is a revolving-door syndrome at the highest levels.
No MEC in the Eastern Cape has served for more than 2 years and the longest serving HOD lasted a mere 18 months!
Stabilizing the management of the provincial education department is central to the improvement of learner achievement in schools.
We must begin by addressing the malaise in the provincial department, at the same time that we begin our interventions in schools.
Educational improvement requires a long-term commitment based on purposeful planning and innovative, strategic approaches.
During this election period it is tempting to look for simple, quick-fix solutions to the complex challenges confronting education in the Eastern Cape.
However, I know that educational change is a slow, often painful process.
It’s premised on the institutionalization of educational routines.
We look to make learning and teaching routine in schools. We look to make teaching and learning happen in our classrooms every day, so that when learners leave home in the morning they know that the teacher will be in the classroom, that the teacher will be prepared adequately for his/her lessons and that all learners will be expected to work hard in class.
It is only when we are able to build this routine that we will be able to improve the quality of education in all our schools.
Out of this summit, we must emerge with clarity of purpose on the way forward.
First, our joint protocol creates the basis for a co-ordinated set of actions to address administrative, financial, human resources and other areas in which we should strengthen efficiency.
We intend to work in a manner that will lead to the development of a sustainable solution that will create certainty and order in the provincial education system. This implies a new way of working and the appointment of persons who are up to the task.
Favouring incompetents and the defence of mediocrity must become part of our past.
Second, all public servants, teacher, principals, and union leaders must agree to give priority to hard work, commitment and competence.
A focus on excellence and success must be the new driver in the education.
This demands a new form of engagement from all stakeholders. Unions will need the courage to hold members accountable while asserting their rights. Principals will have to give meaning to their title by giving leadership in school and academic matters.
They will have to agree to oversee the routine processes referred to earlier. That schools have proper time-tables, that all teaching time is utilized, that registers are kept and that the school creates an atmosphere in which there is no ambiguity about the fact that schools are places or learning and educating.
Third, a focus on skills and knowledge is absolutely necessary. Informed, well-read teachers create successful learners. Thus, there must be collaboration in implementing plans to ensure every teacher in a classroom knows her subject, the curriculum and is ready and able to educate.
Fourth, the province must revive the spirit and principle of people’s education for people’s power. A mandate that asserts that education is concerned with transforming individuals, schools and communities.
Firth, and finally, administrators must be competent professionals, servicing excellence.
I thank you.