Members of the National Leadership of COSAS
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am indeed honoured to address this important induction workshop of our revolutionary ally, the Congress of South African Students (COSAS).
In attendance here are the youngest and finest brains of our movement, the movement of Comrades such as the indomitable lion, Oliver Tambo, Mama Comrade Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and communist extraordinaire Comrade Chris Hani. May their precious souls continue to rest in POWER!
Chairperson and collective, I will be failing in my duty as a senior leader of the African National Congress if I don’t express my disappointment at the recent events of wanton threats and disruptions of public schools in the name of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas). These events and threats put the sector back a few days if not weeks, whereas Cosas has unfettered access to me as well as the senior leadership of the ANC. Comrades, you operate from the headquarters of the ANC. Thus, as our ally, we should be pulling together side by side. We have a better relationship with some Afrikaans principals’ association then we have with you inside the revolutionary Luthuli House. Just saying these words causes me pain.
Chairperson, I expect wise counsel from you as young people on the ground. You represent young people of school-going age in school, not out of school youth. I find it objectionable that in your name someone organises to disrupt schooling against the wishes of scholars. Even organised labour they are required by law to ballot for strike action and give a notice of 30 days.
This notice period and balloting are not some nice to have the procedure, the idea is to give deadlocked parties ample time to find each other before the withdrawal of their labour. Secondly, there must be evidence that the majority of workers support the strike action which has long term consequences for labour peace and financial sustainability of their employer. I don’t understand how I learn through the media about the school disruption while my head of ministry works closely with you. Similarly, it boggles the mind why the Chairperson can't pick a cell-phone and seek an audience with me or my office so that we engage each other in a frank and open manner. Comrades, you have even access to MECs, eight other them are leaders of our movement.
Chairperson, now that I have come clean about my displeasure, let me take this opportunity to congratulate all of you on your recent election to be the wise stewards of this revolutionary organisation. We are proud of the work you do in our sector. We are confident that this new cohort of leaders will take Cosas to new heights. This means being at the helm of the struggle to liberate Africans in particular and black people in general from political and economic bondage. At the core of the movement’s rallying cry is the creation of a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society. As a movement, we have a conscious bias towards the poor and downtrodden. This requires all of us to marshal our abilities and energies towards uplifting the quality of life of all South Africans, especially the poor. In this regard, basic education plays a pivotal role. This, Comrade Chairperson, is the truncated meaning of the National Democratic Revolution.
As we have learned from the revolutionary thinker, and philosopher, Karl Marx, “Men (and women) make their history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”
As you take Cosas to the next level, be mindful of the advice from Marx that the tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. It may be a different epoch, under new conditions, but the terrain of struggle remains the same. It requires men and women of fortitude, personal sacrifice, and clarity of thoughts and vision. Your job is to take forward the struggle for the total liberation of our people especially the youth from all forms of constraints under the circumstances not of your choosing.
Chairperson, this brings me to the theme of today’s workshop, understanding the State of Education in 2020. Chairperson, I must say the overall state of our basic education was in better shape in early 2020 on the back of the historic 81.3 percent pass rate of the Class of 2019. Even before the historic matric pass rate, the focus of the sector and even that of our critics had shifted. Mainly, it shifted from policy uncertainty occasioned by the on-off curriculum changes, teacher vacant posts, underqualified teachers, and discord between us and the organised labour amongst others. All these activities had had negative effects on confidence in the sector. But the debate had shifted from total policy paralysis to the quality of basic education and other legacy matters that I will detail later. For instance, at the administrative level, the Basic Education has had five years of stability at the senior level as well as 10 years at a political leadership level.
We were certain that our children will be able to read by their tenth birthday as President Cyril Ramaphosa had announced in 2019. We were confident that all pit latrines are to be eradicated within three years. We were all focusing correctly on addressing legacy infrastructure issues such as schools built with inappropriate materials (mud schools) amongst others. We had begun to be single-minded in our quest to deal head-on with the great digital divide. Our most ambitious ICT project since the 1994 Breakthrough of ensuring that within six years every child in South Africa would have digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device was taking shape. We were confident that in no time, we would roll out our universal two years of compulsory Early Childhood Development (ECD) before Grade 1.
Then, Covid-19 hit us. As we speak the state of our basic education is in flux. As I said earlier these Covid-19 conditions under which we are called upon to make history are not of our choosing. Since the schools closed in March, we have lost over three months of valuable teaching time. Beyond that our schools have been vandalised during the Covid-19 national lockdown.
However, almost all provinces are currently doing repairs to one thousand seven hundred and eighteen (1 718) schools, which were vandalised during the lockdown. What is disturbing though, is that the criminals continue to cause havoc in our schools.
In Gauteng alone, three hundred and fifty-one (351) schools have been affected by vandalism; and six (6) were vandalised just last week; and these are burglaries taking place in schools previously targeted.
In the North West, a school was torched last week, three classrooms were damaged in the aftermaths. The province reports that burning tyres were used to set the school on fire. This is a serious set-back to the communities affected by these barbaric acts, which cause so much damage to our infrastructure. These wanton criminals are hell-bent in stealing the dreams of our children. We must not allow them to hold us hostage. These attacks on public property should be considered an act of crime against the State, and necessary punishment should be meted out to those found guilty.
Covid-19 and Schooling, the story so far!
Since our Grade seven and 12 learners returned to school on the 08th June 2020, nine hundred and sixty-eight (968) of the twenty-five thousand, seven hundred and sixty-two (25 762) schools, were closed for decontamination and later reopened. This is almost four percent (4%) of the total number of public and independent schools in our country. Even the survey conducted by teacher unions, confirms that between four percent (4%) and eight percent (8%) of schools had to close, due to infrastructure challenges, or the inability of the schools to fully comply with the COVID-19 protocols.
Again, since the return of the Grade 7 and 12 learners on 08th of June 2020, some two thousand, seven hundred and forty (2 740) teachers, of the total number of about four hundred and forty thousand (440 000) teachers, were infected by the virus. This is equivalent to less than one percent (<1%) of the entire teacher population in our country. In the same period, one thousand, two hundred and sixty (1 260) learners were infected by the virus. This implies that zero point zero one percent (0.01%) of our learners, were infected by the virus.
Unfortunately a society we must prepare for the eventuality that what at present is considered community transmissions can become bushfires within our schools. It is not a matter of if but when. The numbers we have so far are concomitant with the general trends of the Covid-19 trajectory as monitored by the Department of Health.
As I said earlier, we have repurposed our schools as epicentres of surveillance, contact tracing, and testing in a war against Covid-19.
Sadly, we have recorded 11 Covid-19 fatalities amongst teachers and four non-teaching staff, all in the Eastern Cape. So far we are aware of only three learners who have also succumbed to this virulent virus. We have conveyed our deepest condolences to the affected families. May their dear souls rest in eternal peace. In a battle against this invisible enemy, we must understand our schools as more than academic learning centers.
We are now the epicentres for health, hygiene, nutrition, and public advocacy against social ills that bedevil our society. This includes public health emergencies such as Covid-19. Our Life Orientation lessons now include a focus on this virus that has disrupted global supply chains, caused havoc in communities, and decimated economies around the globe.
It is within this context that we held our most recent Council of Education Ministers (CEM) virtual meeting last week. At the CEM meeting, we considered several status reports including the Monitoring and Evaluation Report compiled by the independent verification consortium led by the National Education Collaboration Trust. The report recommended that we scale back on the return of more grades by the nominated date of the 6th of July 2020 or delay the return of the entire second cohort of learners. It was argued that this will allow the system more space to adapt to the Covid-19 minimum conditionalities.
Consequently, we resolved to adopt a differentiated approach to allowing more grades to return. As it stands, this means we have scaled back on the number of grades returning in the interest of the learners and parents rather than delay the entire cohort. The gradual return of more grades (learners) to school-based learning is based on the overall Covid-19 Risk-Adjusted Approach.
This approach takes into account all risk factors including the rate of infections in the identified hotspots, and the capacity of the health system to cope with the expected surge in numbers, amongst others. It is for that reason only that some provinces elected to delay the return of Grade R learners, and yet the Grade 6 and 11 in all provinces have returned since Monday.
Our decision was taken because of the sensible advice from our health and education experts. This wasn't an about-turn. We have to be a responsive government. Public policy must be guided by the principle of rationality, legality, the best interest of the child, and scalability at the least of the cost. As they say, the strength of the chain depends on the weakest link. It is important that in our race to rescue the 2020 academic year, we adopt the speed of the slowest. More haste, less speed as it were.
Covid-19 and Comorbidities
Schooling in the times of Covid-19 is like walking on eggshells. Last Sunday we announced that some 25,000 teachers had applied for the Covid-19 special leave/work from home concession because they fall within the high-risk category. Provinces are working with the requisite speed to process these applications in time for the return of all grades.
Of this number, only 10,000 applications have been approved so far to work from home, this translates to only 2.5 percent of the teachers on our payroll. We warned teachers not to abuse this concession. While we acknowledge that replacing 10,000 to 25 000 teachers will be an uphill battle, we aren’t losing more sleep as our country already has a surplus of qualified yet unemployed teachers.
Parents, Learners, and Covid-19(Home Education)
While we are battling the situation of teachers and comorbidities, we are also faced with learners at risk. We have made it clear that vulnerable groups including learners are encouraged to stay at home. In line with this advice from the Health Department, parents have begun to prepare their children for home education because of the existence of one or more vulnerability factors. Just like teachers who are unable to return to work, they too (learners) have to notify the authorities. All home education learners must apply to their provincial education department for this alternative to school-based learning. As a sector, we are gearing our systems to process all applications on time. I have repeatedly said that no learner or teacher should be exposed to Covid-19 despite the existing underlying conditions and other vulnerability factors.
We do have the capacity to support learners at risk as long as we are notified through the relevant channels. The relevant provincial education departments will support home education learners to grasp key learning concepts and skills that build towards the foundation for their next grades. Teachers will use identified key concepts and skills to guide home learning facilitators on teaching methodology. We will also provide support about the worksheets, textbooks activities, and online material that can be used. We urge parents and home education facilitators to use learning and teaching time for high cognitive work rather than rote learning. They must also perform all necessary assessments to identify weak learning areas on time.
We are also geared for more learner support for those who have not yet returned to our facilities. We are using ICTs and various media platforms to achieve this end. We have 197 learning websites that are data zero-rated. These interventions are part of our effort to ensure unlimited access to useful content for learning during these difficult times. We must convey our appreciation and sincere gratitude to the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies for their continued support in this regard. The list of zero-rated websites/resources is available on the Department of Basic Education home page. www.education.gov.za. We have assured the nation that no teacher or learner will walk the Covid-19 alone.
Water, Covid-19, and Schooling
In the context of our all-out-war against Covid-19, we know that the presence of water is foundational. At the outset of our planning to reopen schools, we made concentrated efforts to ensure emergency supply of water so that hand washing with soap can be possible for all. Our in-house information hub identified some 3 500 schools that required some form of emergency water supply. Our model of delivery remains at the provincial level with the support of the Basic Education at the national level. We pulled all resources together for the common good. In this regard, we appointed Rand Water, a government entity to procure and deliver on-site storage tanks where none existed. This is the public sector-led emergency procurement in line with the Treasury rules, and our policy of increasing the capacity of the State to deliver services.
We are happy to report that to date, storage tanks have been delivered to 2 175 schools. In total, Rand Water has assisted with the replenishing of on-site storage water tanks at 3 380 schools. It is important to note that over and above the Rand Water as a service provider, there are several other Water Boards and Municipalities working in tandem with us to provide emergency water supply to our schools.
We are happy to announce that all provinces have confirmed that their previously underserviced schools now have an emergency water supply. We will monitor the continuous supply of this emergency water as it is key to our battle against Covid-19.
In terms of sanitation, we can report that in the Eastern Cape, all nine hundred and ten (910) schools requiring proper sanitation, have received proper sanitation. In Limpopo, all four hundred and fifty-three (453) schools requiring proper sanitation, have proper sanitation.
We have received reports that certain communities are using emergency school-based water supply because they don't have access to their own. We understand the communities’ frustrations as a result of the backlogs in the water service delivery ecosystem. We appeal to municipalities, water boards, and provincial governments to address the conundrum of learners' water disappearing at night. To our people, we say, let’s prioritise the health of our children.
Covid-19 and School Nutrition
As we said earlier, our schools offer more than just academic learning. We are epicentres for health, hygiene, nutrition, and public advocacy against social ills that bedevil our society. We are happy to report that our much-vaunted National School Nutrition Programme is set to resume to cushion learners at risk. In the context of Covid-19, we have decided to expand the programme to include all learners even those not yet allowed back at schools.
All learners not yet allowed back at schools may access nutrition points using different options. These include staggered feeding at school, cooked meals collected at school, food parcels collected at school, and/or collected at collection points other than school. We urge parents to be in contact with their children’s school to know which of these methods would have been adopted by their schools together with the service providers. We reaffirm that Covid-19 essentials such as cloth masks, gloves, disposable aprons, and sanitation materials were provided to all food handlers. All nutrition sites such as kitchens and storage facilities have been decontaminated. The Nutrition programme for Grades seven and 12 resumed successfully in all provinces earlier.
In conclusion, we appeal to you as leaders of young people to monitor the gradual reopening of schools and the Covid-19 minimum requirements without putting anyone at risk. Basic Education is foundational to the well-being of learners. It forms the foundation for later learning endeavours. This important task of building a nation cannot be left to bureaucrats and politicians alone. We need you, your parents, and broader society to multiple our monitoring muscle so that we can pull together and triumph as one. I must stress that there's no magic bullet that will solve the deep pre-Covid-19 infrastructure issues, gross inequalities, and underfunding of the basic education.
We need to emerge from this with a new post-Covid-19 basic education social compact. Because, if we pull together as a nation, we shall triumph. The war against Covid-19 is firmly in our hands.
I, thank you.