Chairperson of the Basic Education Portfolio Committee
UNICEF Country Representative
SACMEQ Director: Ms Toziba Masalila
SACMEQ Technical Director: Mr Morris Awich
Research Fellow at the Brookings Institution: Dr E. Care
Researcher at the Brookings Institution: Dr H. Kim
All Education Stakeholders
Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me pleasure and immense pride to be standing here today and addressing you on this auspicious occasion. We gather here today for two equally important events: SACMEQ IV Study Release & the release of the Findings of the Skills for a Changing World Report.
Traditionally, there has been a cautious optimism whenever progress in the sector is pronounced using international study data on South African learner performance. On some occasions the progress has been punctuated with disbelief and despair when the results of our children are below expectations. I am glad to say that today, we are not adding to a negative space. We recognise that improving an education system is not a sprint but rather a marathon branded with an enduring mix of discomfort and reward.
Over the last few years, our education system has faced several low achievement hurdles but we have remained steadfast in our mission of reaching targeted goals and overcoming obstacles in a bid to provide quality public schooling.
Today, as critical stakeholders in the sector, we want to appreciate two research studies that can help us deliver on those high aspirations of improved quality education to all South African children.
Firstly, it gives me great pleasure to release to the South African public, the results of our Grade 6 learners in the Fourth Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ IV) study. We want to celebrate the acquired knowledge and skills of a special cohort of learners who have significantly lifted achievement levels beyond a targeted benchmark.
The second study reports on the necessary “Skills for a Changing World”, conducted by the Brookings Institute. This is currently a critical area and the report provides several key findings for the sector going forward. Representatives from both organisations are here today to share with us an independent perspective and findings that will assist us appreciate the measure of success we can attribute as a sector on our desired goals of delivering quality education at all levels of the system.
Let me start with SACMEQ and then extend my views on the Brookings Institute survey.
The challenge of providing quality basic education for all our children is not only at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set by the international community, but it is actually a social commitment which every government owes the citizens of its country. Our continued participation in SACMEQ as South Africa is based on the recognition of the valuable information which this regional (African) initiative provides to help us track if our policies are helping us deliver on the goals that we have set for ourselves. In fact our developmental blueprint the National Development Plan (NDP) enjoins us to take these independent studies very seriously. It says in part:
“The performance of South African learners in international standardised tests should be comparable to the performance of learners from countries at a similar level of development and with similar levels of access”.
The SACMEQ Project which started in 1995 was a response to the growing concerns among member states and other interest groups about the quality of basic education being offered to learners. The project started with the collection of data from 20,000 learners, 3,000 teachers and 1,000 principals but has now grown to cover 60,000 learners, 6,600 teachers and 2,500 principals as highlighted in the last SACMEQ IV project. The project has also seen an increase in countries participating from the initial seven Ministries of Education in 1995 (SACMEQ I) to fifteen in the 2013 SACMEQ IV project. This is an indication of the need and demand for information on education among neighbouring member states’ ministries of education.
SACMEQ is a proudly African initiative and its reputation for research and training excellence is widely known at home and abroad. The high quality of SACMEQ’s reports and associated SACMEQ research materials have also been recognized by major universities (for example, Harvard and Melbourne University), research organizations (for example, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement), international organizations such as UNESCO’s EFA Global Monitoring Report Division), and other prestigious associations (for example, the International Academy of Education).
I want to congratulate the Director of SACMEQ and her team for ensuring that the SACMEQ IV project study was completed expeditiously and for officially announcing the results to the international community in May this year.
It is with great enthusiasm and appreciation that we continue participating in the SACMEQ projects not only because “what SACMEQ does” is both exciting and successful – but it is also important to study “how SACMEQ works” in order to draw lessons for the design and implementation of other sustainable education development projects, most notably, our very own national assessment programmes and systemic evaluations.
In many instances the SACMEQ IV report has confirmed, in a scientific way, some of the improvements and growth points that showcase a determination within the sector to transform the lives of our people. I am pleased that there are several noteworthy take-away points for the sector to be further armed with, in our efforts to advance quality basic education irrespective of where learners are located in the country.
Systemic growth patterns are evident when compared to previous rounds of SACMEQ, underlying an observed trend that conditions of schooling for the South African learner is improving. The observations in the Report affirm the on-going success of programmes targeted at the provision of basic school resources (such as ASIDI), essential learning materials through the supply of Workbooks, and improved health care and support through the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) and other health initiatives such as the National School Deworming Programme and National School Hygiene Programme amongst others.
In a month where we celebrate the contribution, dedication and knowledge of women as leaders and midwives of a changing new world order, the study affirms that girls are performing better than boys and there are equitable proportion of boys and girls attending schools at the Grade 6 level.
The Department is currently expanding its pro-poor interventions, so that in areas of need, more schools are built, more learners are fed and every learner has access to a workbook. As a further pushback of resources to the most needy, we are strengthening public-private partnerships in the sector through the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT) and international cooperation agreements with the education ministries and agencies of Cuba, Japan, South Korea, and Finland.
Notwithstanding the granular strides made in improving efficiency and equity in the sector, the overarching “bugbear” of improving quality in the sector to desired levels still remains. To improve the quality of education we offer our learners and empower them with a higher skill set and values, we are increasingly prioritising interventions, policies and strategies that target an improved quality of learning and teaching, and implementing accountability systems to ensure that quality outcomes in the basic education sector are achieved.
As part of our strategic realignment and repositioning of the basic education sector we have endeavoured to measure the quality of learning outcomes at regular intervals through our participation in international assessment studies, local systemic evaluation studies, and the national senior certificate. Recent results from the assessment programmes suggest we are moving in the right direction – up!
The SACMEQ IV study follows closely after the release of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2015 study and the 2016 National Senior Certificate (NSC) results, collectively pointing towards notable improvements in learner achievement at the Grade 5, Grade 9 and Grade 12 levels.
This latest round of the SACMEQ Grade 6 results showcases an exciting milestone for the sector. Our Grade 6 Learners for the first time scored an average in Reading and Mathematics that was above the 500 centre point. The levels and quality of educational outcomes achieved by our learners represent a remarkable achievement with significant growth points observed in Reading and Mathematics. This implies we have moved beyond a critical threshold set out in the SACMEQ achievement scale. The SACMEQ IV study results point towards the following key gains:
- The highest improvement margins among participating countries in the region.
- A narrowing of the gap between urban and rural provinces (reduced provincial inequality), with 8 out of 9 provinces scoring above the 500 centre point.
- A significant reduction in the number of non-numerate and non-literate learners at the Grade 6 level, confirming that the early acquisition of the foundational skills of reading and numeracy is a critical goal that requires focused attention in our schools and sustained support from parents.
At the same time we note that further improvement is possible if we:
- Enable more learners to achieve higher Reading and Mathematics competency levels with a greater focus on learners coping with questions of higher cognitive demand.
- Strengthen in-service and pre-service training of teachers with respect to pedagogical and subject content knowledge with respect to teaching of higher cognitive demand questions to learners.
- Improve the teaching of HIV-AIDS content knowledge and aspects relating to safe sex in the Life Orientation curriculum.
It is of great concern that the report shows that learners’ knowledge of basic concepts and awareness of potentially life-threatening issues related to the ravaging scourge of the HIV and Aids pandemic is far below the desirable levels. Given the stubbornness of the pandemic and the vital decisions that our adolescent children have to make, it is important that society joins hands with the Ministry of Education in ensuring that our schools become centres of holistic development which stimulate intellectual, social and emotional development.
We have invited the Director and her team from the SACMEQ Coordinating Centre to share with us as a sector, the findings of the SACMEQ IV study and to provide an independent view of the country’s performance in this important regional study.
The SACMEQ IV report is released at an opportune time when the Department of Basic Education is focusing all attention and resources on improving the quality of educational outcomes in our public schooling system. The research findings will feed fittingly into our sector plan: Action Plan to 2019: Towards the Realisation of Schooling 2030 and its goals. With the useful information that the report provides on the conditions of learning and teaching in our schools, the Department will be better equipped to make informed choices and prudently select priorities that need to be considered in our interventions for the improvement needed.
Participation in SACMEQ does not only help us as a country to benchmark the quality of our education against other comparable systems in the Southern and Eastern Africa region, but the transfer of skills. This is a recommendable feature of the SACMEQ projects as it helps us to strengthen our capacity to evaluate our schooling system using appropriate methods and valid instruments. This is critical for producing credible evidence which then forms the basis of our planning and delivery.
It was re-assuring that the results further confirmed the upward trends observed in the recent release of the TIMSS 2015 study, which showed significant improvements in Mathematics and Science. The TIMSS performance from 2003 to 2015 showed that there was a significant improvement, more than for any other country with comparable data.
Large-scale assessment programmes such as TIMSS and SACMEQ offer a reliable independent measure to monitor the performance of our learners in key subject areas in order to assess the health of the education system. We remain committed towards using data from these studies to progressively increase education outputs.
In 2017, we will also officially release the results of the 2016 Progress in International Literacy Study (PIRLS), which will provide valuable information on our strategies to improve reading and literacy skills in Home Language and in the Language of learning and Teaching.
Skills for a Changing World
The second valuable report today focusses on the youth. Our great liberation hero and master teacher, Oliver Reginald Tambo said:
“The children of any nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that does not value its youth and children does not deserve its future”.
With the desired goal of improving the skill set of our learners, the Skills for a Changing World survey report suggests that is extremely useful for education ministries to further understand how the majority of stakeholders in the sector understand and value skills that our learners should be equipped with.
I want to thank the Brookings Institute for including South Africa in its survey and for compiling a comprehensive and valuable report that can be used to foreground how well are we preparing our learners for life opportunities outside of school. This is after all, the core purpose of our Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) which has been hailed as high end and streamlined curriculum designed to equip learners with a skill set necessary for the 21st century workplace. But, clearly the Brookings survey and other research studies have signalled that our young adults upon completing 12 years of schooling are not well prepared to navigate life after school.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) refers to young people who are neither in employment, nor in education, nor in training as NEETs. In South Africa, this group is growing and they desperately need our assistance. Earlier this year, I reported to Parliament that my Ministry, the Ministry of Social Development and other departments and the different spheres of Government, will lead in developing strategic and innovative programmes and interventions to address the triple socio-economic challenges of unemployment, poverty, and inequality faced by young people. Our focus will be on young people, aged 15-34, who are neither in employment, nor in education nor in training.
The findings of the Brooking’s Institute, which we will hear more about today, is timeous and will assist us with the conceptualisation of strategic programmes, which in the main will focus on the development of the skills of young people for employability and young people becoming entrepreneurs. All of us agree that young people should be skilled to participate actively in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and become gainful employees and entrepreneurs.
The Information Communications Technologies (ICTs) strategy through “Operation Phakisa” is one of the new programmes aimed at fast-tracking the development and distribution of education-related digital content and other 21st century computer and technology skills in the sector.
The appeal to the sector is that all of us must be involved in developing and implementing sustainable youth skills development programmes for employment and entrepreneurship possibilities.
Our sector plan therefore, strengthens and reinforces a whole system approach intended for the improvement of the quality of teaching and learning outcomes; and guides communication and messages around the comprehensiveness of our responses towards research-based findings of the basic education system’s deficiencies. Credible data and information, as well as credible research, evident in SACMEQ, TIMSS and PIRLS continue to help us to identify where there is inefficient coordination. The views expressed in the Brooking’s survey help to define some of the challenges faced, including the big one—how to teach and assess appropriate and relevant skills in the education system. This research expands our understanding that children need a particular set of skills to live constructively in the 21st century.
Finally, let me conclude by thanking the SACMEQ Coordinating Centre, the South African National Research Team and the Brookings Institute for the sterling job of reporting the results and identifying areas that represent the potential for growth. It is now up to critical players in the sector to turn the findings into focused, credible and concrete plans that can lift the country’s performance in Mathematics and Reading to levels we all can be proud off and learners can be suitably equipped for the 21st century workplace.
Today, we have created space for commissions to interrogate and understand the findings more completely and to utilise the invited expertise within the sector to develop credible and concrete plans to take the recommendations forward.
I therefore invite all education stakeholders and the broader South African republic to view these research studies with a sense of ownership and involvement to celebrate the rising trends and to support the projects, programmes and efforts of the Department in our mission to deliver quality basic education.
Thank you for your sterling achievements and unquestionable commitment and continued support in a bid to remove the “bugbear” of poor learner outcomes in our public schooling systems.
I thank you.