President of NATU, Mr SL Ngcobo
Deputy President of NATU, Mr S.A Thompson
Leadership and all members of NATU
Ladies and gentlemen,
Walking in here I realised how serious was your Deputy President when he spoke to me yesterday, back in Pretoria, at the QLTC Steering Committee meeting.
He could scarcely hide his excitement when he said to me, ‘Minister, tomorrow’s conference of NATU is not just an ordinary assembly of school principals. It is BIG!’ He said you worked very hard to ensure this one attracted even the highest ever attendance of the most prominent principals in the country.
It is evident you’re truly treating with seriousness issues raised about education and the imperative collectively to do our utmost best to turnaround schooling, in the interest of children.
I’m moved also by your emphasis on collaboration in the sector. Collaboration, and partnerships, are at the heart of our initiatives for improving quality of learning and teaching.
In 2008, when we launched the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign, we all agreed individuals and organisations should assume responsibility together to improve education quality.
In 2009, on the occasion of the Opening of Parliament, President Jacob Zuma called upon “teachers, learners and parents to work together with government to turn our schools into thriving centres of excellence.” This we have to do as part of the national resolve to make education a key priority.
The National Development Plan made it quite clear that South Africa will realise its development goals to the extent that it draws on the energies of its people, building capabilities, and promoting partnerships throughout society.
This is precisely why we promised during the 2012 Budget Vote debate in Parliament that we will invest more energy in stakeholder mobilisation – a pillar of our transformation agenda.
And so, I was very glad when you invited me to the NATU 2013 Principals’ Conference. We value strong working relationships with our social partners, NATU included. I’m grateful to NATU for prioritising the Teacher Union Collaboration initiative.
Currently teacher unions are delivering capacity development programmes to teachers in all nine provinces, as per provisions of the Memorandum of Understanding that we have signed.
Working together we’ve made great strides in education. Our schools are not the same as schools we had in the past. You know that between 2002 and now the percentage of publicly employed educators with at least a three-year post-matric qualification has increased from 80% to 96%.
As a sector we now have a clear appreciation of the problems confronting our education system and an understanding of what is driving improvements that we desire. Very importantly, the curriculum has become clearer and more relevant.
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).
There are gains in matric and ANA. As we’ve reported in the 2012 ANA, involving over 7 million learners, there are clear signs of improvement in learner performance, particularly in the Foundation Phase and the Intermediate Phase.
The results of the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) pointed to large improvements in the mathematics and science competencies of Grade 9 learners when compared to Grade 9 learners tested in 2002.
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.
These improvements, sustained as they are since 2009, are a consequence of systemic interventions for strengthening and raising performance in all levels of the system. They show we’ve turned the Titanic around, even though we’re yet to see the results we need in our schools.
We’re happy that to date implementation of the revised Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements is successful, with specific focus this year on the roll-out in Grades 4-6 and 11. Training of teachers to support curriculum implementation is being enhanced through collaboration with stakeholders, and the DBE has deployed teams to monitor training in provinces.
We will put more emphasis on inclusive education, teacher training in areas like Braille, sign-language and assessment interventions and support for learners with special needs.
We’ve prioritised provision and utilisation of Learner Teacher Support Materials.
To contribute to social cohesion, we will pilot the policy on the incremental introduction of African Languages in all provinces, to inform the implementation plan for Grade 1.
Teacher recruitment, deployment and utilisation rank among our priorities. We will ensure that the sector corrects the Post Provisioning Norms and other HR-related challenges to ensure there’s no class without a teacher.
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 address backlogs in classrooms, libraries, 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 – (i) a provincially driven programme with a national budget of R8.5 billion and (ii) the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative with an allocation of R8.2 billion of which R3.1 billion is already committed to projects being implemented.
We will improve access to quality early childhood development confident that we will indeed achieve the Millennium Development Goals on primary education and full enrolment in Grade R by 2014.
We have established special teams to strengthen our monitoring and support work for provinces, including a team to audit provincial reading programmes. We will focus also on improving district capacity and support to schools.
We welcome the national education partnership structure, led by civil society, to be launched this year to support schooling. This initiative will enhance existing partnerships like the QLTC and the Nedlac Accord on Basic Education. It will help in consolidating our work of making education a societal issue while advancing the goals of the National Development Plan.
We appreciate how important, vital and precious education is and therefore continue to commit to do our best for all our learners, in all our schools, and with your support.
As I said in September 2011 at the 93rd Annual Conference of NATU, your motto – “educating our nation” – indeed captures the pressing need for quality education. School principals are the primary and key drivers of education transformation.
In every school, sound leadership can and should contribute to improved learner outcomes by shaping the conditions and climate in which teaching and learning occur. This should begin to show why we say the principal is the nerve centre of school improvement. When the leadership is strong even the most challenged schools thrive.
The bottom-line is to have teachers in class, teaching, at least seven hours a day. I explained recently why we must replace archaic time-books with technological devices like biometrics. I invite NATU, and other stakeholders, to help us tackle sharply the scourge of absenteeism, and to act decisively on unprofessional conduct.
A recent study on SA and Botswana did show that out of 130 programmed Grade 6 maths lessons, SA teachers covered 50 while Botswana teachers 78. That means that our teachers did not teach 60% of lessons that they were scheduled to teach.
In a study by Nick Taylor, What’s Wrong with South African Schools (2008:7), it is suggested that absenteeism is aggravated by “the failure on the part of principals to exert a tight time-management regime in their schools [that] is symptomatic of a general failure to take responsibility....”
Principals, parents, communities and School Governing bodies must monitor schools and take the necessary steps to deal with repetitive absenteeism. As I’ve said before, ways of curbing absenteeism should include improving teacher knowledge. With confidence comes development.
Allow me to take this opportunity to announce that soon we will request schools to take a stand against the tragic violent acts in our country, particularly aimed at women and the girl-child.
On the whole, we acknowledge the good work our school principals are doing, even under difficult circumstances. We’re on the right track, but still have a long way to go.
I wish you a great conference with good results for education!