Good morning and welcome to our pre-Budget Vote media briefing. Thank you for joining us this morning as we preview the priorities of the basic education sector for the 2019/20 Financial Year. I will speak in detail later this afternoon as I delve into the eleven strategic areas which we have identified for the 2019 Medium Term Strategic Framework.
You may recall that on the 2nd July we released the Country Report of the Teaching and Learning International Survey. The results from the TALIS 2018 cycle explore and examine the various dimensions of teacher and school leader professionalism across education systems. The Survey asked teachers and school leaders about working conditions and learning environments at their schools.
Overall, the Survey strengthens the narrative of a basic education system that is on the rise. Our duty therefore, is to accelerate the implementation of existing basic education policies such as scaling of the teacher development initiatives so that we may inspire and enable them to innovate. Using this Survey and others we will identify and share best practice to reduce existing gaps between professional vision and pedagogical practice.
The TALIS report, like other such similar research into the sector, confirm the direction that needs to be taken if the country needs to register drastic improvements in the education system. They reveal more concretely areas of progress and those aspects that need our urgent attention. A variety of data from credible research bodies has informed the policy interventions that need to be put in place to continue the upward trend in the basic education sector. There is consensus that we need to fix the system from the bottom.
Our number one priority therefore is to improve the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy, especially “Reading with meaning”, straddling the ECD to end of the Intermediate Phase at Grade 6, which should be underpinned by a Reading Revolution.
In order to achieve that goal we need to urgently proceed with the implementation of the two-years of ECD before Grade 1; and the systematic relocation of the responsibility for ECD from the Department of Social Development to the Department of Basic Education. The department is working closely with the Department of Social Development and other partners to oversee the smooth function shift of the migration of the responsibility for ECD centres from Social Development to Basic Education, and proceed with the process towards two years of compulsory ECD for all children before they enter Grade 1.
DBE will develop a comprehensive plan for the different work streams involved in the ECD function shift (Grade R, Grade RR, and Birth to 4), in collaboration with the relevant partners in government. A costed plan for the ECD function shift will be finalised by March 2020.
On Skills-focused Curriculum
We also know that there is a clear link between educational outcomes and later life outcomes such as access to jobs. Therefore, the only way that South Africa is going to achieve meaningful social and economic transformation, is by making sure that children across all of society, especially in poor communities, learn to read, write and do mathematics in the early grades, so that they are equipped to go on to further educational opportunities.
Curriculum developments in the basic education sector are advancing at a rapid pace, as we move swiftly to meet the global trends in digital and ICT education, to prepare and skill our learners for the demands of the current and future economy.
We have also begun the process of transforming our curriculum by introducing new and existing skills-based subjects. The plan is to establish National Schools of Specialisation or Focus Schools incrementally throughout the country in the medium- to long-term, to offer the new and other skills-based subjects, which include amongst others Aviation, Maritime, Engineering, Hospitality and Tourism, Arts as well as Mathematics and Science. We are incrementally establishing Technical High Schools and Schools of Skill. The aim is to ultimately have at least one such school per Circuit.
It is important to note the establishment of Schools of Specialisation will be prioritised in line with the Economic Development Zones, already established across the country. By doing this, we are responding to the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and that this approach, will assist us to grow the numbers of learners exiting the system with the skills required for a changing world.
On Information and Communication Technology
We can say with confidence that we have brought Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and connectivity within the reach of our teachers and learners. Workbooks and textbooks are digitised for easy access. We have digitised approximately 90% of textbooks for high enrolment subjects – such as Mathematics, Physical Science, and Accounting; as well as 100% of workbooks and Graded Readers. We have developed the Grade R-3 Coding and Robotics curriculum; and the design of the Grade 4-9 curriculum is at an advanced stage. The curriculum will be introduced from January 2020 in Grade R-3 and Grade 7.
The provision and maintenance of infrastructure, remains one of our key priorities as a Sector. To improve the delivery of infrastructure, we will be revisiting the delivery model for school infrastructure projects, to save on the cost of providing education infrastructure, and to improve contract management processes with our implementing agents and service providers. We will also be researching alternative funding modalities for the provision of school infrastructure, and to ramp up our maintenance programme.
By the end of this financial year, we will complete the construction of 40 schools, and to deliver sanitation to 775 schools, and water to 225 schools. The number of schools to be provided with sanitation includes 606 schools to be provided through the SAFE initiative, which is implemented in partnership with the private sector, sister departments, such as the Departments of Water and Sanitation as well as Environmental Affairs, and entities, such as the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA).
School infrastructure provision remains a contentious matter that requires agility, innovation for effective delivery to accelerate the achievements that have already been registered. In order to beef up capacity at national level we have already appointed a Chief Quantity Surveyor and an Engineer. We are in the process of identifying two more Chief Quantity Surveyors and a Chief Projector Manager for school infrastructure.
The Constitution says that conditions shall be created for the development and promotion of all the 11 official languages of South Africa and for their equal use and enjoyment. Ladies and gentlemen, there is also a growing body of current research on African languages that confirms that the orthographies and the linguistic structures of African languages, are unique and different to the English language. As a result we have conceptualised reading methodologies that speak to African languages. The language issue, is a key factor that impacts on reading and literacy outcomes. The majority of emergent bilingual learners in South Africa, speak and learn African languages, which have different linguistic structures to English; and this impacts on the language transitioning within schools.
I am delighted to announce that the Council of Education Ministers overwhelmingly agreed to incrementally introduce Kiswahili in our schools. There is a high level of enthusiasm about this. Kenya and Tanzania have committed to assist with the training of educators and the development of appropriate learning and teaching support materials in Kiswahili.
As you know our core business is curriculum delivery, that is teaching and learning. In this regard we have made a lot of progress in giving our children access to schooling, and ensuring that more children go on to complete grade 12, and enter post-schooling opportunities. As we implement various programmes it has become clear to us that to realise further improvements in the system, we need to intensify our efforts of focusing on the learning foundations that children build in the early grades of primary schooling.
His Excellency, President Ramaphosa has set us a goal that “every child should learn to read with meaning by the age of ten”. The coordination of our Reading intervention are currently being strengthened; and we are paying particular attention to the teaching of “reading with meaning”. The time has come for us to work together to achieve this goal.